Bennett Christian Didn’t Allow Suspension to Stunt His Development in Second Year at Ohio State

By Dan Hope on March 28, 2024 at 4:10 pm
Bennett Christian

Bennett Christian didn’t let his suspension prevent him from continuing to develop as an Ohio State tight end.

Christian was suspended for the entire 2023 season after he tested positive for a banned substance during an NCAA drug test last January. He said the suspension stemmed from taking a supplement he purchased at a nutrition store without checking with Ohio State’s training staff to see if it was permitted.

Christian was shocked when he was initially informed of the suspension, which he said he was unable to appeal. But he didn’t allow himself to mope about it.

“Obviously, it was challenging mentally and physically, but I made the best out of it,” Christian said Thursday. “Put my head down, went to work every day. I prayed all the time and I really grew in my faith with my parents. And I grew from it. It’s a lesson learned, for sure.

“I was devastated. It really caught me off guard,” Christian said of his initial reaction when he learned he would be suspended. “It was a rough time. But I moved past it and decided I had three choices. Either I could tuck my tail and run away; hide from it, not acknowledge it; or grow from it and learn from it and make myself better, and that's what I did during the year.

“I'd be lying if I said it (didn’t take) me a little bit. It was definitely hard at first. Had to deal with with some stuff mentally. But I would say during mid-spring, after spring, I said, ‘Okay, I'm gonna be better at this.’ I had a really good summer, a really good fall camp, and I grew a lot during the season.”

While Christian wasn’t allowed to play in games for Ohio State last season, he was still allowed to participate in practices and all other team activities, and he took advantage of those opportunities. Being suspended meant spending the season with the scout team, but that experience helped Christian grow because it meant going up against starting defensive ends Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau on a daily basis.

“They're the best in the country at their position. And getting to go against them, really work on my technique, my hand placement, my feet for a year, I think for not being able to play, I developed at a really good rate,” Christian said Thursday.

Because he wasn’t competing for playing time, Christian was able to focus strictly on doing his job in practice and his individual development, which he believes was beneficial.

“That was kind of good and bad,” Christian said. “There was no pressure, so I got to work on myself, and I got better from that.”

“Obviously, it was challenging mentally and physically, but I made the best out of it. Put my head down, went to work every day.”– Bennett Christian on working through his suspension

Even though he didn’t get to play in any games, Christian made a positive impression on his coaches and teammates with his performance and effort in practice.

“I'm really proud of how Bennett reacted,” tight ends coach Keenan Bailey said Tuesday. “He couldn't play on Saturdays, but every day he went to work. And going up against Jack and JT and the boys down at the scout team, I think a lot of people would have tucked their tails and ran. And again, it's a credit to how he's raised with (his parents) Bill and Sandi and the coaches he's been around, I think Bennett handled it well and developed.”

Fellow tight end Patrick Gurd said Christian “handled it like a man.”

“It was definitely hard for the first month or so. It would be hard for anyone. But he had a great group of guys around him that just kept uplifting him, kept giving him encouragement and he took it as a chance to just grind as much as he could in the weight room, then on the field as well,” Gurd said. “He was meeting with coaches, learning as much as he could, being prepared for hopefully now a great spring and then leading into a great fall for next season.”

Gee Scott Jr. also praised Christian on Thursday.

“No matter who you are, when you kind of hear news like that that you're gonna be out for a year, that's hard. No matter where you are. I'm really proud of him because he came to show up every single day, and he got better,” Scott said. “The easy thing to do in that kind of situation is to throw in the towel. Be like, ‘Man, forget this,’ or ‘I’ll get better next year.’ But I saw the drive out of him. One thing I’ve seen out of him is every day he showed up, he got better.”

Now entering his redshirt sophomore season with the Buckeyes, Christian is hungry to make up for lost time and turn his development last year into showing what he can do in games this year.

“I feel like last year I kind of went under the radar a little bit. And that was OK. I accepted that a year ago. Learned from it,” Christian said. “But I put my head down and I really got better, so now I'm just trying to transition that into the spring and keep it going.”

Whether Christian will play a significant role now that he is eligible again is uncertain. Scott appears to be the early frontrunner to start at tight end this year, while Ohio transfer Will Kacmarek is also expected to see substantial playing time after playing more than 900 snaps over the past two years for the Bobcats. Jelani Thurman is a projected breakout player at the position and Patrick Gurd showed last year that he could earn playing time despite being a walk-on.

But Christian, a four-star recruit in the 2022 class who played in two games as a true freshman, feels ready to play any role that Ohio State asks him to play.

“Whatever they need me to be,” Christian said when asked he thinks his role can be this season. “I'm an unselfish player. I can provide a lot in the blocking game and the passing game. So whatever they need me to be.”

Christian might have missed an opportunity to start pushing for playing time last year because of his suspension, but he’s not dwelling on that anymore. And Bailey made it clear that his expectations for Christian remain high.

“He’s here to be the best tight end in the country, period,” Bailey said when asked about his expectations for Christian this season. “That's why you come to Ohio State. I don't care if it's Bennett or Jace (Middleton) or Will or Gee, whoever it is. The guys I recruit, you come here to be the best tight end in the country. That's my expectation for him and everyone else in the room.”

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