Thayer Munford and Tyreke Smith won’t be back at Ohio State next season. Zach Harrison, Cameron Brown and Dawand Jones are still deciding whether they will play another season at Ohio State. But all of them will be playing in the Rose Bowl.
Those five Buckeyes were among 15 Ohio State players who met with the media at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on Thursday, and all of them said they have no intentions to skip the Rose Bowl even though any of them could be in the NFL next year.
Smith, a senior defensive end who won’t be using his additional year of eligibility at Ohio State, said it is “very important” to him to finish his Buckeye career with a win after they lost their final game of the regular season against Michigan.
“I feel like that means something, just one last game with your brothers means a lot. And that’s a memory you’re gonna take forever,” Smith said. “So just to go out with a win, a good, solid win, just means a lot.”
Antwuan Jackson, another senior defensive lineman who will complete his Ohio State career in the Rose Bowl after coming back for an additional year of eligibility, echoed Smith’s sentiment about the importance of going out with a win.
“That would be very important,” Jackson said. “I just want to end my time here on a win and go out big.”
Munford, like Smith, said the Ohio State brotherhood is a big reason why he will be playing in the Rose Bowl – and why no one from the team has said they will opt out yet, at least not publicly.
“We love each other and we still want each other to be better,” Munford said. “Even the seniors and whoever’s going to the NFL, they want to make sure they don’t leave on a bad note.”
Munford and Smith are both expected to be selected in the 2022 NFL draft, so it’s unlikely their teammates would have faulted them if they had chosen to sit out the Rose Bowl to preserve their health. Harrison, Brown and Jones, meanwhile, are all considering the possibility of entering the NFL draft even though they are juniors (a redshirt junior in Brown’s case), but the only decisions they had made on Thursday was that they will play in the Rose Bowl regardless of whether or not they decide to enter the draft.
Harrison didn’t want to say Thursday which way he was leaning in terms of whether he will go pro after the Rose Bowl, but did say he hasn’t yet accomplished all the goals he wants to accomplish at Ohio State.
“That’s definitely part of my decision,” Harrison said. “I feel like there’s some things I’ve left on the table that I feel like if I come back I can accomplish. So that’s something I just gotta factor in and sit down with my mom and dad and make those decisions.”
Jones said he is still weighing whether he played well enough this season to go to the NFL now or whether he needs to return for another year to improve his draft stock, but there was no way he was going to skip the chance to play in the Rose Bowl.
“I’ve seen it on TV and I for sure can’t miss this opportunity,” Jones said. “It means a lot, just knowing the whole nation of Buckeye fans is counting on us to go out with a W, honestly.”
Brown said he wants to get through the Rose Bowl before he makes his decision.
“I’m not really thinking about it,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to focus on Utah right now.”
(Update: Brown announced Thursday night that he will stay at Ohio State for another year.)
Two other NFL draft-eligible players who participated in Ohio State’s media day on Thursday, redshirt sophomores Ronnie Hickman and Steele Chambers, both said they will be back with the Buckeyes next season.
While all of those Buckeyes will be on the field when Ohio State plays Utah on New Year’s Day, the possibility of other NFL draft prospects opting out of the game remains on the table. Ryan Day said Wednesday that “there’s still some guys kind of figuring that out,” though he did not specify any potential opt-outs by name.
Junior wide receiver Garrett Wilson, a projected first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, told Eleven Warriors last week that he had not yet decided whether he would play in the Rose Bowl. Senior wide receiver Chris Olave, another projected first-round pick, was among the players who were scheduled to meet with the media on Thursday but did not end up being available for interviews.
Other Buckeyes who are potential 2022 NFL draft picks but have not met with the media since the end of the regular season, leaving their Rose Bowl intentions unclear, include left tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, defensive tackle Haskell Garrett, tight end Jeremy Ruckert and cornerback Sevyn Banks.