Nov. 18, 2016 was a bittersweet day.
Sycamore High School, a public school of about 1,700 in Cincinnati most known for its academic prowess, was taking on historical athletic powerhouse St. Xavier in the state quarterfinals after defeating archrival Mason in the playoffs just one week prior. Due to a botched referee call on an onside kick, the Bombers came back from a sizable deficit to stun Sycamore in overtime, 35-28.
St. Xavier went on to win the state championship that year.
The game was interesting enough. But what happened during the game changed the lives of a lot of people.
See, midway through the second quarter, a "yo, David! Check your email!" came from a few rows up in the bleachers. And the goofy, curly-haired, crappy-dressed kid who just one exactly one week prior celebrated his 18th birthday at Golden Corral checked his phone and saw that he had been admitted to The Ohio State University.
Earlier that week, Jason Priestas had reached out to me. At the time, I was a dumb teenager with a dumb Twitter account, but had managed to get it up over 10,000 followers. I was pretty proud of it. And evidently it caught the attention of some Eleven Warriors staff members (probably for just as many negative reasons as positive ones).
I promised Jason I'd let him know where I'd be going to school. It didn't have to wait long.
I came from a family of Buckeyes. Both of my parents graduated from the university, as did my grandfather. The first sporting event I remember watching was the 2006 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.
While I grew up a Buckeye fan and lived just 90 minutes away from Columbus, I only saw two games in person prior to becoming a student: wins over Purdue in 2012 and Iowa in 2013. But it didn't matter. Eight days after the Buckeyes won the 2014 national Championship, I started my Twitter account and basically decided then and there that it was the only school for me.
On Aug. 19, 2017, that same goofy kid moved into his dorm at The Ohio State University and logged into the Eleven Warriors slack channel for the first time. I then proceeded to meet up with Kevin and Jimmy at the Thompson statue on the Oval. I had no idea where that was.
A few weeks later, after using GPS to get around campus for a while and learning which dining halls to avoid (Morrill) and frequent (K-Comm), it was finally time. The first home game.
No. 5 Oklahoma was coming into Columbus in one of the biggest marquee out-of-conference games to hit Ohio State in recent years. After a sluggish first half for both teams led to a 3-3 stalemate at the intermission, Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma ran away with it in the second half, as the Sooners shocked the No. 2 Buckeyes 31-16 and sent a freshman back to his dorm almost in tears.
Ohio State wasn't supposed to lose at home. The Buckeyes weren't supposed to lose ever, actually. What if they were never good, I wondered. How could it be that I had just stepped on campus, and Ohio State lost its first home game. C'est la vie. Classes went on.
Fast forward a few months. It's December. Finals season. I wasn't doing too well. Turns out 9 a.m. art history lectures and 8 a.m. economics recitations probably were things that shouldn't have been scheduled in one's first semester.
But some good came out of that semester. I made several friends I'm still close with today and got my first glimpse into what it's like to cover big-time football from the perspective of both a student and a journalist. Iowa ended any hopes of a Buckeye championship by throttling Ohio State in Iowa City, but I watched a historic comeback on a beautiful night in the 'Shoe against Penn State and the Buckeyes beat Michigan. So it was a fine season.
As expected, I ended the semester with a sub-2.0 GPA, automatically putting me on academic probation. Do it again next semester, and I'd be thrown out of Ohio State. It was a wake-up call. C'est la vie. Classes went on.
The rest of freshman year was much better academically. I finally settled in and realized how to be successful at Ohio State. It's all about using your resources. There are so many provided that there really isn't an excuse.
Sophomore year was similar. A heartbreaking loss to a Big Ten West team during football season. Another year with Eleven Warriors. Despite some personal life challenges in spring 2019, I was able to pull it together and do what needed to be done academically.
Which leads into now. Junior year. For a lot of football players, this is a "make-or-break" type of season. If you're not ready to play on a big stage now, will you ever be? Some rise to the challenge, like Jeff Okudah and Josh Myers and Chase Young did this past year. But others don't. They wallow along on the bottom of the depth chart before transferring. And that's what can happen to you at Ohio State. Either you seize the opportunity, or you leave. Ohio State is what you make of it.
For many people in my class, now begins the "core" section of your schedule. Most of the general education classes that the university forces us to take for no reason are out of the way, and it's time to buckle down and focus on your major.
That was certainly the case for me. I was (am?) taking 18.5 hours this semester. Five of them at Columbus State, the rest at Ohio State. It's a rigorous schedule. I did well on the first round of midterms and was prepared for round two after spring break. C'est la vie. Classes did not go on.
What do you do when your university president sends an email at 10 p.m. on your second day of spring break saying your school is now online? We now know how the events unfolded. But at the time, Ohio State was one of the first schools in the country to do what it did. Certainly the largest. And its decision was met by some hostility at first.
For graduating seniors, this was their last hurrah. They were supposed to see the trees bloom in Columbus one more time. Swarm the oval on that one amazing week in April where it's really nice outside but finals preparation hasn't started yet. Say goodbye to the people they want to say goodbye to. Walk into the Shoe and get handed their diploma. They won't get the chance.
Regular students can't redshirt. I won't be able to re-do this semester unless I want to pay thousands of dollars. It sounds incredibly trivial to think about but I miss jaywalking across Lane Avenue. I miss sitting in Schoenbaum Hall listening to business lectures. And we will never know if the Large Father Hoz intramural basketball team could have made a run in the playoffs.
Every person has their own “thing” that makes their Ohio State experience. For some that may be Greek Life. Others are involved in student organizations such as USG or Block O. For some it may be as simple as playing pickup basketball or meeting friends for coffee or a dining hall feast.
But no matter what the "thing" is, it is never forgotten. Parents bring their kids on tours to Ohio State and say "here's where I lived! I can't believe it's still here!" And "you know if you whisper into one end of Hayes Hall you can hear it at the other end." And "back when I was here, you could see 80% of the field from the top floors of Morrill."
I wonder what that will be for my generation. Maybe I'll say, "when I was a student we only had five rec centers."
Ohio State will recover. It always does. Adapt and overcome, it is said. But it's hard to believe it now, and you don't really know what you're missing until it's gone.
But that's life. C'est la vie.