As time expired in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl matchup between Ohio State and Clemson, in which the Tigers pulled out a 40-35 victory over the Buckeyes, it was clear OSU was looking ahead to an interesting offseason.
Heading into the Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes knew they were going to lose six of the 10 players that were named to the All-Big Ten teams at the end of the season, with five graduating seniors and redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby leaving early for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Replacing that talent was going to be difficult, but things got even harder for the Buckeyes the day after the game.
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, named first team AP All-American as well as two-time first team All-Big Ten, decided to forgo his senior season and take a shot at the NFL.
The Big Ten’s leading tackler in 2013, as well as OSU’s leading tackler each of the last two seasons, Shazier has started 29 consecutive games for the Buckeyes at linebacker including every game under coach Urban Meyer.
Shazier said in a press release Saturday that playing in the NFL has been his goal since he was young.
“Playing in the NFL is something that I have been dreaming about since my days in pee-wee football,” Shazier said in the release. “I just feel that now is the perfect time for me.”
With Shazier’s departure, OSU will need to replace four starters on the defensive side of the ball, with Shazier and Roby leaving early and redshirt-senior safeties C.J. Barnett and Corey “Pitt” Brown graduating.
The Buckeyes also will lose senior safety Christian Bryant, who missed the final nine games of the season with a broken ankle and had his appeal for a medical redshirt denied. Shazier honored Bryant by wearing his number for every game after Bryant was hurt against Wisconsin Sept. 28.
Shazier said the team was like a family and that he will always remember his time at OSU.
“I feel like my three years at Ohio State were about great relationships with coaches, my teammates and Buckeye Nation,” Shazier said. “Playing here was an amazing experience.
“And it is really hard to explain the brotherhood I have with my teammates … with Braxton (Miller), Curtis Grant and Doran Grant … Christian Bryant … Chase Farris … all the guys. They took care of me and were always there for me and I feel like we will be brothers for the rest of our lives. And I want to thank them for what they’ve done and for always being there for me. They know I’ll always be there for them.”
Bryant said Nov. 18 that Shazier asking to wear his number meant a lot because it meant that he was on the field even when he couldn’t be.
“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 (in) telling him (yes), because it was one thing for a teammate just to want to remember you like that on the field like that.”
Earlier this season during a Nov. 23 game against Indiana, Shazier became the first Buckeye to record 20 tackles in a game since A.J. Hawk did it in 2004.
After that game, Meyer said Shazier’s emotion on the field is what sets him apart from other players.
“A very emotional guy … his heart is everything,” Meyer said. “He’s very, like I said, he wears his feelings on his sleeve and the players love him for it. And so do I. Very emotional that players that plays that way too.”
Shazier said he owes a lot of his development to his coaches at OSU.
“The coaches have really helped me to grow into the player I am today,” Shazier said. “Coach Meyer, (defensive coordinator Luke) Fickell and all of the coaches at Ohio State have been amazing. I have great relationships with them and I feel as if all of them have been there for me. I am so blessed to have had them as my coaches.”
Shazier is set to find out where his NFL future lies May 8-10 during the 2014 NFL Draft. He is projected to be a first round selection by CBS Sports.