As Ohio State players and coaches flooded the middle of the field in a celebratory congregation at the Rose Bowl, Demario McCall stood alone.
The sixth-year Buckeye did not run toward the 50-yard line to rejoice with his teammates, but stopped in his tracks at the 15, looked up in the sky and watched scarlet and gray confetti fall. McCall unstrapped his gloves and nodded his head three times before turning around to slowly saunter toward the rest of the group.
Given the way the one-time top-50 high school prospect’s career has gone, the emotions were mixed as McCall soaked in the final moments of his last season with the Buckeyes.
“I just want to say I’m grateful for the opportunity and just to be a part of the brotherhood,” McCall said after the game. “We know my career didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I’m thankful for just being a part and doing what I can do for the team. So I’m real grateful.”
McCall, who made the last of several position switches throughout his career to cornerback ahead of 2021, played just 77 snaps on defense this past season. In the Rose Bowl itself, McCall only saw playing time on special teams. Those that only watched what happened between the sidelines in Pasadena on Jan. 1 might not have suspected that the North Ridgeville, Ohio, native had much of an impact on the final result.
But they’d be wrong.
Down two touchdowns at the intermission and with 35 points already given up to the Utah offense, Ohio State needed a lift at halftime. It wasn’t a coach that stepped up to give the Buckeyes a spark, though. Instead, it was a veteran that might typically be glossed over when listing Ohio State’s primary leaders.
“I had to talk to them boys in the locker room at halftime, just to get them up,” McCall said. “It wasn’t going the way we wanted to in the first half, got up, said a few things to get them going. We came out in the second half and mostly did good. … Just being a senior and knowing how it feels. I’ve been down before in the locker room with guys when I was a freshman, watching Terry McLaurin step up, watching Parris Campbell step up, Billy Price, all of them. Just seeing them talk to the team when they were down. They left a legacy behind, I wanted to leave one too. Hopefully next year, hopefully it don’t happen, but somebody else can do it too.”
McCall, whose speech helped the Buckeyes come back in the second half to steal a 48-45 win, was not the only member of the team who mentioned his legacy after the game. Bryson Shaw glowed about the impact of the program stalwart, and said Ryan Day acknowledged it as well.
“Demario’s one of the most honest, truthful, big-hearted guys I’ve ever been around in the locker room, and he’s nothing but great for this team and this program,” Shaw said. “I think sometimes people only look at performance on the field – which Demario has stepped up big on special teams and stuff this year and he’s played well when he’s been in – but what they don’t see is the impact these guys have in the locker room and have on the team.
“His impact, Coach Day just said it in the locker room and I think it needs to be said; I think Demario, his legacy in that program is gonna be left behind and it’s gonna be a big loss from a leadership standpoint. He definitely didn’t get the credit I think he deserved just for how great of a man he is.”
Neither McCall nor Shaw, Day or any other member of the team divulged exactly what he said at halftime, preferring to leave that message in the locker room. But McCall said it was the authenticity of his words that rang true to his teammates.
“It was (great) because it was from the heart. It was from the heart, and those boys know how I feel about the team and they know what I’d do for the team,” McCall said. “So I asked them to do it for me, and they did.”
McCall’s college career never matched his recruiting status. The No. 2-ranked all-purpose back in the class of 2016 tallied 865 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage, but that was stretched over the course of five seasons before he switched to defense for his sixth year.
But McCall is not giving up on a football future just yet.
“I’m trying to play ball at the next level, just like we all want to do,” McCall said. “So I’m gonna go train, go to Pro Day and see what happens from there.”
As for what position McCall sees himself playing, the speedy 5-foot-9, 191-pound athlete said “I’m doing them all,” and that “whatever they want me to play, I’m gonna play.”
McCall may not be satisfied with the way his career turned out in Columbus. He may not even be all that pleased with the way the 2021 season went for the Buckeyes, given the goals they failed to achieve. But McCall is grateful for it all just the same, as he was instrumental in helping Ohio State notch a win to close out his time with the Buckeyes.
“(The season) went alright. I wish it was better. Like the way we finished, love the way we finished,” McCall said. “Great game, man. I’ll be able to reflect back years later and talk about this game. Grateful for it.”