A day after the Buckeyes beat Eastern Michigan, Nick Piening woke up to nearly 800 friend requests on Facebook.
It was a shock to a man who — even though he suits up for the Ohio State football team — is hardly a recognizable name. In fact, Piening is better known as “Jugs” and he is the Buckeyes’ freshman, walk-on long snapper. He is also an overnight sensation and student favorite.
Piening, who wears No. 58, retrieves the kicking tee after each kickoff. He stands out because he is not the tallest or biggest player on the team. During the lopsided victory against Eastern Michigan University, students noticed him. With the student section looking for more to cheer about, it began to cheer Piening as he ran on and off the field.
“I saw him running out to get the tee and I thought it was funny how much hustle he put into it,” said Adam Smith, an executive for Block-O. “You know, it was his only job and it didn’t seem like he had another agenda. I just started chanting into the mic at the one point, ‘go,’ and I think a lot of people realized what I was chanting for.”
Piening acknowledged the crowd by stopping just short of the sideline, then slowly stepping across.
“It was a great feeling, even though I’m just the guy that gets the tee, but any attention is good attention as long as it’s not negative,” Piening said.
The players on the sideline noticed the attention Piening was getting as well.
“I heard everyone cheering,” said Jake McQuaide, starting long snapper for the Buckeyes. “He’s a guy everyone in the stands can relate to. He’s not the biggest or tallest guy but he’s playing Division I football.”
When he woke up the next morning, he learned that he had become a Facebook phenomenon of sorts.
“I thought my computer was glitching, I just thought it was all wrong,” said Piening, who now has 2,350 friends. “It was interesting but at the same time it was pretty fun. It shows how much the fans up here care about their team.”
Smith pointed out that students’ amusement with “Jugs” is good-natured.
“I don’t think it was people necessarily making fun of him or anything, but it was the hustle and watching him run out to get the tee,” Smith said. “A lot of schools have like a tee kid or something, but we just have like a freshman long snapper running out there.”
The guys in the locker room are enjoying Piening’s popularity as well.
“Justin Boren has told everyone he has met that Nick had 1,200 Facebook requests,” McQuaide said.
Piening’s Facebook page has been littered with messages from his new fans. Messages called him “the hero of Block-O North,” while others declared “Jugs for Heisman.”
The nickname, oddly enough, came from the Buckeyes’ commander-in-chief, coach Jim Tressel.
“Coach Tress gave me this nickname one day because I was long snapping really good, and Tressel said, ‘You’re snapping like a Jugs machine,’ and it just kind of stuck,” Piening said.
A Jugs machine is a machine that shoots footballs out and is often used in drills to help players practice catching the ball.
But even if the crowd roots for “Jugs” every Saturday, Piening has to continue to put in the effort every day.
“It’s a tough spot being a young specialist,” McQuaide said. “Every day is a tryout, and as a walk-on, you have to be on your game every day.
“He has to keep putting in the work, and I think he could be a good player at Ohio State, but that is yet to be seen.”
At one point during the Eastern Michigan game, Block-O North chanted “Hey Piening, O-H.” Piening set down his helmet and signaled I-O back to the student section.
When asked if Block-O had any plans to chant for Piening, Smith replied, “I’m sure we’ll get innovative. Everyone liked the idea of chanting for the underdog, the Rudy story.”
For now, Piening will enjoy his new fame while he continues to work hard at becoming a starter for the Buckeyes.
“I know my role, and my role is to be on the sideline getting the crowd into it,” Piening said, “and I’m taking advantage of that.”