For the past few years, almost every mention of Tuf Borland has included a reference to his Ohio State captaincy.
In 2018, it was notable that his teammates voted him a team captain despite being just a redshirt sophomore on a defense that included plenty of older players who didn’t hold the title. A year later, he made headlines again by joining Jordan Fuller as one of the Buckeyes’ only two returning captains. Before this season started, Borland followed J.T. Barrett as just the second three-time team captain in the history of the Ohio State football program.
Anybody analyzing what Borland has brought to the table invariably involves his leadership and role as a team captain, and for good reason. His teammates respect him, look up to him and follow what he does on and off the field. No, he’s not the loudest person in a given room, but he’s the kind of guy who takes care of his business the way the coaching staff and his teammates value.
This year, though, Borland’s captainship doesn’t sit right there at the forefront. His improved play does.
Prior to the season kicking off, co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he thinks Borland is a “totally different linebacker” this year than last year. He noted what he saw as improved speed, quickness and strength from the veteran middle linebacker.
Sure, he went a little bit overboard by seemingly saying Borland would be unrecognizable from his previous self. That hasn’t come close to happening. But he was right in that Borland has, by all accounts, played better than ever before through the first half of the season. He is tied with Pete Werner as the team’s co-leading tackler (16) and recorded Ohio State’s only sack versus Rutgers.
“I've said a number of times: Tuf is definitely playing the best football he's ever played,” Mattison said on Wednesday.
Borland, the 6-foot-1, 234-pound redshirt senior, continues to do what has made him so beloved by his coaches since Luke Fickell landed him out of Bolingbrook, Illinois. He’s still the quarterback of the defense, gets folks aligned and sets the tone. And, yes, he’s also a captain.
Yet he’s impacting games at a higher level from his spot at Mike. He’s flying to the ball faster than before, working through blocks from offensive linemen with better efficiency and seems to be delivering his with more force.
As one of the reasons for his fifth-year ascent, Mattison pointed to Borland’s recovery from an Achilles injury suffered in March of 2018.
“The thing you've got to remember about Tuf is it's been two years now, I think, since he had that Achilles (injury),” Mattison said. “I mean, you look at the guys in the NFL and the players that have had Achilles (injuries). It's the same thing with Justin Hilliard. I mean, for these two guys to be playing the type of football they're playing right now, that's amazing. It's a real credit to our training staff, and it's a real credit to our strength staff to get them back.
“You're never going to be as good as you're supposed to be right away.”
But he’s that good right now, which is what matters most in 2020.
Borland isn’t going to be in contention for the Butkus Award or something crazy. That’s not happening this season. He’s not that type of linebacker. This fall, though, Borland appears to be peaking at the perfect time for the Buckeyes whose defense relies heavily on a corps of reliable linebackers.
“Tuf's been a guy that's worked on everything, and now I think he's right at the top of his game and will continue to be there throughout the season,” Mattison said.