If Kamryn Babb had decided to move on from football after tearing his ACL once again this spring, it’s unlikely anyone would have blamed him.
Babb briefly considered that “it might be time to wrap it up” after he tore his ACL in March for the fourth time in five years dating back to his senior year of high school. As a result, he’s likely to miss Ohio State’s entire season for the third time in four years. But Babb, who’s leaned heavily on his religious faith as he’s battled through each of those injuries, isn’t giving up on being the football player he still believes he can be.
“Nobody’s really been able to see what I know I can do,” Babb said Wednesday. “I talked to the doctors and stuff and for somebody that’s torn four ACLs, you wouldn’t be able to really tell. And I feel great. That’s all praise and glory to God for being able to move and run and do the things I can still do. So I do feel like I can still play at a very high level.”
As he continues to recover from his most recent injury, Babb will most likely have to wait until next year yet again to get the chance to show what he can do. But that doesn’t mean he won’t still make an impact for the Buckeyes this year.
Last week, Babb’s Ohio State teammates selected him as one of six captains for the 2021 season, demonstrating that they expect him to be one of the team’s top leaders this year even though he’s back on the sidelines once more.
“When he talks, we listen,” Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman said earlier this week. “You can ask anyone on the team. Whenever he opens his mouth, we listen. He has a really good belief in his faith. He has a strong faith system. So that only inspires us to tap into that level too, man. Because he has a smile on his face all the time.”
Resilience has been one of Ohio State’s themes during this year’s preseason camp, and Ryan Day views Babb as “the epitome” of resilience. He recently asked Babb to speak to the entire team about how he’s kept a positive mindset despite all of the adversity he’s faced, and Day expects Babb to continue providing motivation for the Buckeyes all year long.
“He’s been an unbelievable leader,” Day said. “He’s set a standard. The hard part for Kam is he really just hasn’t spent much time on the field. But his impact has been left already on this program, and I know he wants to leave a legacy, and this is an unbelievable way for him to do that. He could have walked away two or three different times and he hasn’t. He stuck with us.”
What makes Babb such a great leader? Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline says Babb is “a very consistent man that operates at a very high level academically, socially, spiritually.”
“I think it just speaks volumes to the young man he is. His work ethic has been off the charts,” Hartline said of Babb being named a captain. “You don’t get elected to something like that if you don’t live the right way. By the right way, I mean people idolize how he lives. It’s always a challenge to do right and choose right and be kind and be thoughtful, and I just think he embodies that. And he’s obviously made a large impact on a large amount of guys.”
Of course, Babb would rather be on the field catching passes than watching from the bench. If not for injuries, he likely would have caught plenty of passes for Ohio State by now, considering that he was the No. 73 overall prospect and No. 13 wide receiver in the recruiting class of 2018. Instead, he’s played just 31 career offensive snaps, all of which came in backup duty last season.
Still, he hasn’t wallowed in self-pity. Rather than dwell on his repeated bad luck, Babb has continued to work toward his personal goals while also giving positive energy to his teammates.
“He could have played from day one,” fellow fourth-year wide receiver and team captain Chris Olave said. “He got set back with a lot of ACL injuries. To see him come out a better person as well is huge to me. Being in his dorm, one of his roommates in his dorm, just seeing him go through all that on his face and get through all that sets an example for a lot of people in this program.
“He loves the game of football, and he just wants to get better every day. He’s in the training room, not complaining at all. He’s still leading off the field, and he’s a big captain for our team.”
Babb wants to do whatever he can to help the Ohio State football team succeed, and he knows that starts with continuing to show up and work hard every day while also finding ways to make his teammates better.
“I think it’s now more just stepping out of my comfort zone and being vocal in any way and just being supportive and just I would say inspiring,” Babb said. “When I come out and guys see me and they are like, ‘OK, you’ve torn four ACLs’ but they see me out here working every day, that may push them when they may want to drag on a day or something like that. Because there’s definitely days where I want to drag and just tired. But just being that light and just pushing them any way I can. Mentally, physically, in every aspect of this game and every aspect of life. Just being there for my teammates with life, as well, I think is huge for me.”
Within the wide receiver room at Ohio State, Babb has had plenty of teammates who have set an example for him of how to be a leader and overcome adversity. Two years ago, C.J. Saunders was in a similar position when he was elected a team captain by the Buckeyes even though he suffered a knee injury that would keep him out for the entire season. Johnnie Dixon, who was also sidelined by knee injuries for multiple seasons during his Ohio State career, was a captain in 2018 when Babb was a freshman.
Saunders is currently competing for an NFL roster spot with the Carolina Panthers while Dixon is currently competing for a spot with the Dallas Cowboys, and that’s served as inspiration for Babb, who still hopes he’ll get that opportunity, too.
“In the times where it may get rough, he’s somebody that I can go to and really talk to,” Babb said when asked about Saunders. “He hasn’t necessarily been through the same things, our paths are different, but he’s known the struggle. So it’s definitely inspiring to look up and see where he’s at, and hopefully some day I can get to that point.”
“I do feel like I can still play at a very high level.”– Kamryn Babb
With the extra year of eligibility granted to all players by the NCAA last season, Babb will still have two more years of eligibility at Ohio State after this season. There’s still time for him to make an impact on the field for Ohio State in 2022 and/or 2023. Whether he will actually be able after so many injuries is entirely uncertain, but no one at Ohio State is counting him out.
“A hallmark of very successful people is the ability to be resilient and bounce back from setbacks, and what a great example,” Day said. “He’s had four ACL surgeries, and he’s still focused on playing. It’s just amazing.”
Regardless of what he ends up being able to do on the field over the next two to three years, Babb plans to continue doing whatever he can to make a positive impact on Ohio State while also continuing to trust his faith.
“I got in my mind who I want to be, but I would leave that up to just the Lord,” Babb said. “I think I can be a very explosive and dynamic player. But I just want to play football and be here for Ohio State and for the football team in any way I can. So whatever that may look like, I just give it to the Lord and that’s it.”