It’s rare that Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer shows emotion.
But after the game against Wisconsin Sept. 28 when senior safety Christian Bryant went down with a broken ankle, Meyer slammed his hand to the table and said losing players like Bryant was “the hardest part of this whole job.”
Now Bryant’s final game as a Buckeye at Ohio Stadium is scheduled for this Saturday when No. 3 OSU (10-0, 6-0) takes on Indiana (4-6, 2-4) at 3:30 p.m., and he won’t get the chance to take the field.
“I would say (Saturday) would probably be one of those emotional days for me,” Bryant said Monday. “Just knowing that it could be a possibility that it’s my last game in the ‘Shoe. And just walking out and seeing the fan’s reaction to me walking out of the tunnel for the last time I feel like it’s probably going to be a great experience.”
Bryant, who has an outside chance at being given a medical redshirt if he chooses to apply for one, started the year as one of OSU’s most experienced defensive players, after starting 22 games before the year began for the Buckeyes, including all 12 in 2012. He started all five of the Buckeyes games this season, before going down against the Badgers.
After the injury, junior linebacker Ryan Shazier switched numbers and went from wearing No. 10 to No. 2, to honor his teammate.
Bryant said the gesture was very powerful and emotional, because he felt as though a part of him was still on the field that way.
“That means the world to me,” Bryant said. “Just when Ryan came up to me about a week later asking me, can he wear the number? I didn’t really hesitate and telling him (yes), because it was one thing for a teammate just to want to remember you like that on the field … with him wearing my number, I feel like everyone knows that my spirit is still out on the field even though I’m not physically out there.”
Bryant said he thinks wearing the new number has improved Shazier’s play on the field.
“It pushed him a little bit just knowing that he just had to be out there making plays for me and him,” Bryant said. “He knows how many plays I’d be out there making.”
Redshirt-senior left tackle Jack Mewhort, who is also set to play in his last game at Ohio Stadium, said it is going to be hard for not only Bryant but for the whole team with him not playing in the game.
“I couldn’t even begin to understand the feelings that he probably has because he’s such a competitor so I know he wants to be out there with us,” Mewhort said. “He’s had such a great attitude … he’s there for us mentally every day, helping young guys and bring a great attitude around the facility. I can’t speak for him, but it’s going to be emotional. It’s going to be emotional for all of us knowing that he wants to be out there with us and he can’t.”
Bryant was named one of eight captains before the season, and despite being hurt since early in the year, has walked out as a captain to participate in the pregame coin-toss in the past few weeks.
Although Bryant has been ruled out for the rest of the regular season, he said it is still a possibility that he could make a return for OSU’s bowl game.
“It’s been brought up a few times,” Bryant said. “But right now, I’m still just kind of unsure what can happen and the progress with where I may be at that point it’s still up in the air.”
Co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers said Bryant is a “spark plug” for the OSU defense, even when he isn’t on the field.
“He is the guy that everybody on that defense looks to,” Withers said. “So he’s the guy that if something isn’t going good, he’s going to let everybody know that it isn’t going good and why it isn’t going good … he has a tremendous role and I think our players feel good when he’s there.”
Withers said replacing Bryant on and off the field has been an on-going process.
“Every time you lose a guy like that, you work every day to try to match it. It’s one of those deals where you’re really trying to match what he brings to practice, what he brings to the room,” Withers said.
Bryant said although his injury had kept him out for a majority of his senior year, the experience has been allowed him to grow as a person.
“I persevered just through obstacles. You can never think about what’s going to happen next because you have no idea,” Bryant said. “I mean you can just live in the moment and just seize every opportunity.”