Ohio State's Most Likely Captains for the 2020 Season

By Dan Hope on June 2, 2020 at 8:47 am
Tuf Borland

Strong leadership might be as important as it’s ever been for the Ohio State football team in 2020.

After nearly three months away from campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and now civil unrest across the country that has motivated the Buckeyes themselves to advocate for change, Ohio State’s brotherhood and ability to overcome adversity is being put to the test well before the season even begins.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they have plenty of strong candidates to provide the leadership they’ll need to get them through an unusual spring and summer and ensure they are prepared, focused and bonded together for the fall.

Ohio State has had exactly seven captains in three of the last four seasons, including each of the last two, so below, we predict the seven most likely Buckeyes to be elected captains by their teammates this year, followed by a list of seven other veterans who are also among those likely to garner at least some votes.

Projected Captains

Tuf Borland, LB

There’s no doubt about this one. Borland has been a captain for each of the last two seasons, and come this fall, he’ll join J.T. Barrett by becoming the second three-time captain in Ohio State history. 

Being elected a captain as a redshirt sophomore showed just how quickly Borland gained his teammates’ and coaches’ respect, and that respect has only grown over the last two years. The fifth-year senior has started more games at Ohio State than any other returning player. 

Jonathon Cooper, DE

Back for an unexpected fifth year at Ohio State after redshirting last season due to an ankle injury, Cooper is also a returning captain who will almost certainly be voted in captaincy by his teammates once again in 2020.

Even when Cooper was injured last year, he continued to draw praise for his leadership from the sideline, and he’s often been heralded by his coaches for both his work ethic on the field and character off the field. He’ll be expected to lead the Buckeyes’ defensive line in 2020 as the only lineman with more than four games of starting experience.

C.J. Saunders, WR

It’s still not guaranteed that Saunders will be back for the 2020 season, as it hasn’t been announced yet whether he will receive a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, but he’s continued to participate in team activities all offseason. Like Cooper, injuries ruined what was supposed to be his senior season in 2019 – in Saunders’ case, he didn’t play at all due to a knee injury – but if he gets an extra year of eligibility, he’ll also have the opportunity to become a second-year captain as a result.

Even though he didn’t play at all last season, Saunders’ leadership was still evident – particularly at the Big Ten Championship Game, where he was credited with making a halftime speech that helped spark the Buckeyes’ second-half comeback. And he’s continued to be a leader this offseason; during an interview session in February, freshman wide receiver Julian Fleming singled out Saunders as a player who had taken him under his wing and shown him the ropes.

Justin Fields, QB

A returning quarterback with a full year of starting experience is typically a strong candidate to be a team captain, and with the way the Buckeyes rallied around Fields last season, he seems like a sure bet to be selected by his teammates this year.

The best players on a team usually are strong candidates to be captains, and Fields is the undisputed face of the team entering 2020. More importantly, Fields has proven to be an excellent leader for Ohio State’s offense, all the while showing toughness in playing through a knee injury down the stretch of last season that cemented the respect of his teammates and coaches.

Josh Myers and Justin Fields
Josh Myers and Justin Fields are both strong candidates to be Ohio State captains in 2020.

Wyatt Davis, RG
Josh Myers, C

There’s a reason why Myers and Davis were the first Ohio State players to speak to the media after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down spring practices, and that’s because they’re both tremendous representatives of the program. Even as first-year starters last year, their emergence as burgeoning team leaders was clear, and now that both have a year of starting experience under their belt, they seem more likely than not to be captains.

Ohio State director of sports performance Mickey Marotti recently singled out Davis’ leadership, saying “he gave probably the most inspiring talk to a team in a winter program that I’ve ever heard in my life.” And based on what Marotti, Kevin Wilson, Greg Studrawa and others have said, Myers is also an offensive lineman who commands great respect throughout the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Pete Werner, LB

Werner has seemingly been destined for future captaincy since Urban Meyer raved about him as a true freshman and said “buy stock in that guy for his career,” and now that he’s a senior with two years of starting experience under his belt, it seems like a good bet that Werner will get his chance to be a captain in 2020.

Much like fellow linebacker Borland, Werner is highly regarded throughout the football program for his work ethic and accountability, and he’s played the most snaps at Ohio State of any returning defender. He’s another Buckeye who’s been a popular choice to represent the team in media interview sessions, and he’s often cited as a player who leads by example for his teammates.

Others to Watch

Shaun Wade, CB

The only reason Wade isn’t listed as a projected captain is because of the depth of potential captains on the roster, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise if he ends up being one of the captains selected – regardless of how many captains there are in 2020.

As the only returning starter in Ohio State’s secondary, Wade is the Buckeyes’ clear-cut leader on the back end, and there’s no doubt he has the respect of the rest of their defensive backs. He also fits the criteria of being one of the best players on the entire team – he’s the biggest returning star on defense – and has drawn nothing but positive reviews for his character throughout his time in Columbus.

Chris Olave, WR

Like Wade, the only reason Olave isn’t projected as a captain is because a proposed limit of seven captains – which could be exceeded, as seen in 2017 when Ohio State had nine – forces us to make some tough choices. But there’s no question Olave belongs in the captaincy conversation, as well.

The Buckeyes’ most experienced wide receiver, Olave is expected to step into a leadership role this year at a position where Ohio State has had at least two captains in each of the last three years. He’s more motivated than ever going into this season as he looks to make up for his costly route-running mistake in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, and he’s been regularly praised by Ryan Day and Brian Hartline for his commitment and competitiveness.

Thayer Munford, LT

Given that Munford is the single-most experienced player on the roster in terms of snaps played, he certainly belongs in the conversation as a potential captain. He goes into 2020 with two years of starting experience, and like Myers and Davis, he’s certainly expected to be a leader for Ohio State’s offensive line this fall.

Having three strong candidates on the offensive line could potentially work against Munford’s bid for captaincy, but he’s as deserving as anyone of consideration.

Luke Farrell, TE

Like Munford, Farrell is now a third-year starter for the Buckeyes, and that experience alone should ensure he’s well within the conversation for potential captaincy.

He doesn’t garner a lot of attention because of the position he plays, but he’s been a leader in the tight end room for years, and as a fifth-year senior, his stature as a leader for the entire team should grow. Don’t be surprised if he ends up making the captain cut.

Luke Farrell and Chris Olave
Luke Farrell (89) and Chris Olave (2) are both among the veterans who could be chosen as captains in 2020.

Justin Hilliard, LB

A member of the recruiting class of 2015, Hilliard is the longest-tenured player on the entire roster, and the sixth-year senior has commanded respect throughout the program for how he has battled through a multitude of injuries during his years in Columbus.

Like every other player on this list, Hilliard exudes maturity and has drawn consistent praise from coaches and teammates for his character. He hasn’t quite been able to make the on-field impact in his Ohio State career that was once expected before his injuries, but he’s a team leader nonetheless, and that could well make him a captain for his final year as a Buckeye.

Master Teague, RB

Teague’s emergence as a leader and unifier has been clear just in the past week alone, when a statement he posted on Twitter about fighting injustice with positivity was shared by the Ohio State football team’s official account, Day and several assistant coaches. Character, maturity and hard work are all words often used to describe Teague by those within the program.

Given that he is only a redshirt sophomore and that his 2020 season is potentially in jeopardy due to an Achilles injury, Teague’s time to be a captain is probably more likely to come in 2021 and/or 2022. But it would be hard to argue against him being ready to be a captain now.

Tyreke Smith, DE

Smith, like Teague, is a player whose chance to be a captain is probably more likely to come in 2021 (unless he enters the NFL draft early), but who can’t be ruled as a sleeper pick to be voted into that role this year, too.

Another player who demonstrates maturity beyond his years, Smith’s years-long advocacy against racial violence gives him a particularly strong voice in the midst of an ongoing national movement. And he’s set to play a big role on the field in 2020, too, as one of the top defensive ends who will counted on to step up following the departure of 2019 captain Chase Young.

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