Ohio State’s practice uniforms don’t typically feature the last names of the players wearing them, but there was one notable exception at Saturday’s spring game.
As the Buckeye offense took the field for its opening series of the intrasquad scrimmage at Ohio Stadium, C.J. Stroud’s No. 7 jersey stood out from the rest. There was a surname sewn between the Buckeye quarterbacks’s shoulder pads, only it wasn’t his own.
Sporting “Haskins Jr.” on his back in the same number the late Ohio State quarterback used to wear, Stroud needed just 10 plays to pay homage to the record-shattering Buckeye passer. On the game’s opening drive, Stroud threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Smith-Njigba that wouldn’t have looked the least bit out of place in a Dwayne Haskins highlight reel.
This looks familiar. pic.twitter.com/dU0BEqJDTj— Eleven Warriors (@11W) April 16, 2022
“I just wanted to honor his – maybe his last moment in the Shoe,” Stroud said after the exhibition. “I feel like that’s a big brother of mine, and I just wanted to honor him. It wasn’t nothing crazy to me, I just thought it would’ve been important for him to go out the right way, so I’m glad his last play at the Shoe was a touchdown. So I’m excited for that.”
On an afternoon that featured multiple tributes to Haskins, who died at age 24 after being struck by a car in Florida last week, Stroud’s was among the most poignant.
From the moment of silence before the game, during which Stroud kneeled in prayer, to the “DH” painted on the 7-yard line and placed on Buckeye helmets in the form of a decal, it was clear Haskins was on the hearts and minds of the Ohio State program on Saturday. But while several of those efforts were announced in advance of the contest, Stroud’s own way of honoring Haskins came as a surprise.
Ohio State is honoring Dwayne Haskins for the spring game by painting his initials on the field near the south end zone. pic.twitter.com/9KaDWQCNT6— Garrick Hodge (@Garrick_Hodge) April 16, 2022
DH decal on the Buckeyes helmets for Dwayne Haskins: pic.twitter.com/Ry21PLJybf— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) April 16, 2022
Although they were never teammates at Ohio State, as Haskins left for the NFL nearly a full year before Stroud committed to play for the Buckeye, the influence the former had on the current Buckeye quarterback is evident in more ways than one.
“He’s an inspiration. He always has been,” Stroud said. “I even watched him when he was in high school. I used to watch the Elite 11 documentaries all the time, and he was one of those dudes on there, so I used to watch him on that. I looked up his highlights after and then went from there and started studying his career, started watching over his career.”
Stroud changed out of the Haskins jersey following the first series on Saturday, but the tributes did not end there. At halftime, the Buckeyes gathered at midfield and watched a video package honoring Haskins’ life and Ohio State career, and afterwards, the team knelt down for a prayer led by veteran captain Kamryn Babb.
A kid who had a dream and left a legacy.— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) April 16, 2022
After that beautiful Dwayne Haskins video, former teammate Kamryn Babb (@kamm_o) led @OhioStateFB in prayer. pic.twitter.com/3cV7VBMUvL— Ohio State on BTN (@OhioStateOnBTN) April 16, 2022
When asked about the moment following the game, Stroud said he’d prefer to keep it private.
“I kind of want to just keep that between us. It’s a team thing, I don’t really want to talk about it too much, but Babb said a great prayer,” Stroud said. “Of course the emotions were flowing, but that’s kind of between us.”
Haskins’ 2018 campaign isn’t an easy one to forget. The Maryland native rewrote the Buckeye record book when it comes to quarterback play, and when asked at the start of the week if he would be Ohio State’s head coach right now if not for Haskins, Ryan Day said “probably not.”
In fact, Stroud – the third straight starting quarterback to become a Heisman Trophy finalist for the Buckeyes amid a streak that began with Haskins – might not be at Ohio State either if not for his aforementioned predecessor under center.
Stroud said it was Haskins’ prolific 2018 season that spurred on his interest in coming to Ohio State in the first place, having set the tone for the best quarterback play in the history of the program, statistically, over the past several years.
“He changed the culture at quarterback here, throwing 50 passing touchdowns,” Stroud said. “Definitely that’s what intrigued me to come here, for sure, and then Justin (Fields) stamping that the next year.”
But just as important to Stroud is that Haskins is remembered for the kind of person he was, particularly in the wake of a couple negative comments made about the first-round draft pick by members of the national media in the moments that followed his death. Stroud addressed those after the game Saturday, vouching for Haskins in the process.
“He’s just a big-time player, big-time dude. Not just on the field, but off as well,” Stroud said. “He inspired me, of course, being a Black quarterback as well. He expressed himself in many different ways, so I respect that. I just think he’s a great person, and it’s sad to see people trying to talk bad about him and whatnot because they don’t even know him like that. I definitely think Dwayne was a great human being, first and foremost, and he definitely left a legacy here that I watched.”
Both Stroud and the Ohio State football program appear intent on making sure Haskins’ memory and lasting impact aren’t soon overlooked, and given Stroud’s own accolades after one season as starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, it’s clear he’s done all he can to live up to the standard Haskins set in Columbus.
“Dwayne’s legacy will live on,” said Stroud, whose gesture on Saturday proved that point beyond a shadow of a doubt.