Dallas Gant has waited three years for his opportunity.
The senior middle linebacker has appeared in 33 career games at Ohio State, but never in a starting capacity. With Tuf Borland, Baron Browning, Justin Hilliard and Pete Werner all in front of him on the depth chart, Gant has only seen occasional snaps in his first three years as a Buckeye.
The experience has been bittersweet for the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Gant. Seeing only limited playing time “kind of sucks sometimes,” he acknowledged, but he also said he wouldn’t be the player he is today if he didn’t have players like Borland in front of him to learn from.
“It's no secret we had a ton of guys last year, a ton of guys, that were phenomenal at what they did,” Gant said. “Tuf Borland, Pete, Justin and Baron were phenomenal at what they did, and kind of just playing behind them ... You kind of see how they work and how they do things.
“Now coming to this, my senior season, it's time to show what I've learned over the years from these guys.”
While he’s never been a starter, it’s not quite fair to call Gant inexperienced. In three seasons, he’s racked up 44 career tackles (3.5 for loss), two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks. Gant played in all eight of Ohio State’s games last season, recording 17 tackles, forcing a fumble and notching one pass breakup.
“I think that over these years, it's been three to four years now, I think that we accumulate enough work that there's no reason to be nervous,” Gant said. “We've done a lot of work in the dark. We worked just like those guys that you guys saw on Saturdays that got all that time. We worked just the same as they do.”
Now that the Toledo native is finally among the most experienced linebackers on Ohio State's roster, 2021 is Gant’s best chance yet since he’s been at OSU to cement a starting role for himself. But even this offseason, there have been setbacks in his quest to claim the starting middle linebacker job outright.
Gant missed spring practices with a foot injury. He still tried to be a vocal presence for the Buckeyes while injured, offering assistance to younger linebackers and breaking down film alongside them.
“He’s been engaged step-by-step, even throughout the spring he’s been a leader and has been front and center every meeting,” OSU linebackers coach Al Washington said.
Gant resumed workouts over the summer, but his foot injury could still be lingering. Washington declined to disclose if Gant has been a full participant in practice, but did say he doesn’t think he’s far behind the other linebackers.
“I have a high level of trust in Dallas as a person when his number is called that can go out there and play … I don’t think he’s far behind. Obviously, you’d love to see him practice and you’d love to see him have a spring,” Washington said. “But I think for him the mental part is more important at this stage of his career.”
Gant himself was slightly coy when asked if his foot is still limiting him, though he expects to be fully healthy for Ohio State's Sept. 2 season opener at Minnesota.
“Feels good, I’m getting there,” Gant said. “I’ll be ready for the season, I promise you that.”
There's still an ongoing battle for the starting middle linebacker spot. Cody Simon is also in the mix, and was the beneficiary of more reps in spring ball with Gant sidelined. USC transfer Palaie Gaoteote could also enter the mix for the starting job if he is cleared to play by the NCAA.
But Washington continues to remain steadfast in his support of Gant.
“He's been here and he's done a really good job of having a great presence for us,” Washington said.
Washington isn’t the only vocal supporter of the St. John’s Jesuit product. Fellow senior Teradja Mitchell, OSU’s projected starting weakside linebacker, has also waited three years for his turn to shine after they came in together in the class of 2018. Mitchell applauded Gant’s work ethic and dedication to watching film to improve his craft.
“Dallas is ready,” Mitchell said. “When he gets on the field, you’re going to see those improvements.”
Although Gant is technically classified as a senior, it’s not necessarily a make-or-break year since he could choose to play one more year in 2022 after the NCAA granted all athletes a blanket year of eligibility during the 2020 season. But after biding his time for the past few seasons, Gant feels like he’s ready to make an impact for the Buckeyes’ defense right now.
“It is a blessing and I am really glad that I went through it because it teaches you so much,” Gant said of his experience learning from the other linebackers. “It's really a blessing. It's frustrating at times, and it would be frustrating for anyone, right? You want to come to Ohio State, you want to play. But you're here now.”