The bandages and bruises on Tommy Eichenberg’s hands during Tuesday’s media availability at Ohio State provided evidence of the injuries he’s been playing through. With his words, however, Eichenberg downplayed any notion that those injuries should be slowing him down in any way.
Asked about those injuries Tuesday, Eichenberg repeatedly said his hands “feel good.” He said he was “not sure” when asked if his hands are actually broken, as Ohio State defensive end Zach Harrison indicated after Saturday’s win over Maryland, but said he’s never even considered not playing as a result of his injuries.
“It'd take a lot to stop me from playing, especially with this team, this defense,” Eichenberg said. “Everyone that’s still playing football right now, everyone's battling different things. Everyone has pain every time they're still on the field. So people have different things they got to deal with.”
Aside from the tape he’s been wearing on his hands, Eichenberg certainly hasn’t looked injured when he’s been playing for the Buckeyes this season. What he has looked like is one of the best linebackers in the country as he’s recorded 105 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a pick-six as the leader of Ohio State’s defense.
Eichenberg, who was named Tuesday as one of four finalists for this year’s Lott IMPACT Trophy, says the hand injuries have forced him to be sound in his technique as a tackler, which he thinks has made him a better linebacker.
“You gotta be a sure tackler,” Eichenberg said. “You gotta use your body. You gotta use everything you can. And you gotta practice too. You gotta practice at it.”
Ohio State safety Ronnie Hickman says he hasn’t seen Eichenberg’s injuries affect his play at all.
“Tommy's still playing lights out,” Hickman said. “He's a guy you can depend on, you can count on and he's been doing a tremendous job of that this year.”
Ohio State tight end Cade Stover, who lives with Eichenberg and fellow linebacker Steele Chambers, says Eichenberg doesn’t let his injuries get in the way of anything he does, even away from the football field.
“He's good. He's always healthy,” Stover said. “You ain’t got to worry about that.”
Nobody has been more impressed by Eichenberg than Ohio State defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jim Knowles, who thinks Eichenberg has set the tone not only for the Buckeyes’ defense – which enters this week’s game against Michigan ranked ninth in the country in yards allowed per game (283.4) and 10th in points allowed per game (16.9) – but for the team as a whole.
“Tommy's as tough as they come, as tough as any player I've been around,” Knowles said. “He kind of epitomizes what we want to be as a defense and I think as a program because nothing is going to stop him. No matter what the circumstance or the injury, he's going to show up.”
Hickman described Eichenberg as “probably the toughest guy I've ever stepped on the field with,” and that toughness has earned Eichenberg respect from his teammates that makes them all want to follow his lead.
“You can ask anyone in that locker room, specifically on the defensive side. We look at Tommy, wherever Tommy goes or whatever he tells us to do, we do it,” Hickman said. “You need that on a defense, and you need that leadership, and Tommy brings that every day.”
“He kind of epitomizes what we want to be as a defense and I think as a program because nothing is going to stop him.”– Jim Knowles on Tommy Eichenberg
Eichenberg, in turn, says his teammates are what motivate him to keep going despite the injuries. The Cleveland native will have even more motivation this week, though, as the Buckeyes look to avenge last season’s loss to Michigan in a battle of undefeated rivals.
“It’s the greatest rivalry,” Eichenberg said. “A game that you look forward to playing when you're younger. And I’m excited.”
In his first year playing a major role for Ohio State last season, Eichenberg was part of a defense that got shredded for 487 yards, including 297 yards and six touchdowns on the ground, by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Asked Tuesday if he thought the Buckeyes got exposed for having a lack of toughness in that game last year, Eichenberg said he thought they did. Specific to his own performance, Eichenberg said he did not play well against Michigan in 2021.
“I definitely did not play up to the standard of how I should play,” Eichenberg said.
That said, he’s confident he and his Buckeye teammates will be prepared for the challenge they will face in The Game this year.
“We play together. Defense plays together, offense plays together,” Eichenberg said when asked what he thinks is different about this year’s team. “Building toughness every day is something we've been emphasizing.”