With under six minutes left and down 23-20 to Wisconsin, Ohio State redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett was staring down a 2nd-and-11 from OSU’s 32-yard line. When the Buckeyes need a play, it’s usually either Barrett, junior H-back Curtis Samuel or redshirt sophomore wide receiver Noah Brown who gets the ball. This time, it wasn’t any of them.
Senior H-back Dontre Wilson was matched up against Wisconsin redshirt freshman linebacker Zack Baun. Barrett stood in the pocket, checking off his receivers before he saw Wilson turn a button hook into a go route down the sideline. Wilson hauled it in for 43 yards, which ultimately set up the game-tying field goal before OSU won 30-23 in overtime.
After nearly giving away a muffed punt earlier in the game, Wilson recovered to give OSU a chance to win the game.
When the team went into the locker room after the victory, Wilson was called upon to stand up in front of the team in recognition of his play. The message was simple. He told the team he was grateful for what had just occurred, but that game was not the goal for OSU.
“It wasn’t about me at that moment. It’s a team effort,” Wilson said on Monday. “Even though I made that play, it’s still a big team effort. It wasn’t about me, it was about the team.”
For Wilson, that play was as significant as any in his career in Columbus. It was even more significant given that he still has not recovered from his broken foot suffered against Michigan State during his sophomore year in 2014.
Over the offseason, Wilson said he went to the Nike World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon to have a pair of cleats custom-made for him. Wilson’s cleats are wider than the team-distributed ones, and limit the pain on his foot. OSU coach Urban Meyer said during Monday’s press conference that Wilson still wasn’t quite 100 percent and often doesn’t practice early in the week. Wilson told the media he’s probably about 95 percent, but it’s certainly something he feels out on the field.
“When you break a foot, it’s tough, especially a skilled athlete,” Meyer said. “I just love his unselfish approach right now, and the fact he made a play to help us go win a game. He flipped the ball to the official, went back, and almost made another great one to help us. I like where he’s at, and he’s a team player that’s doing the best he can.”
For an athlete such as Wilson, a broken foot is not only a physical obstacle, but a mental barrier. Any athlete at OSU will tell you that it’s easy to get frustrated or get down on yourself, however for Wilson, it was much more than a little adversity.
“When I first had my injury, I was going through a lot,” Wilson said. “I was going through some stuff with my mother and I had just had my child two days after my injury. I was going through a lot, man. I was real frustrated.”
As he stood in a walking boot and crutches on the sideline watching his teammates win a national championship, Wilson said he took that as a sign from God that better days were ahead.
Heading into the remaining half of his final season of college football, Wilson is enjoying his most successful season yet. He already has a career-high five total touchdowns (four receiving, one rushing), has accumulated 16 catches for 232 yards and has run the ball 12 times for 75 yards. He is on track to shatter his career mark of receptions and receiving yards in a season.
What has enabled Wilson to be a high-impact player is his maturity through his injury. Barrett said he doesn’t see Wilson get frustrated any more than any other receiver. He just fits right in.
“It’s almost like we overlook one or the other between Dontre and Curtis. They’re one and the same,” Barrett said. “They’re both dynamic players that do a lot for our offense that create mismatches with linebacker and get up on the safeties and make guys miss all over the field.”
Saturday’s game against Penn State will be another difficult test for the Buckeyes, given an environment that Wilson said is the most impressive he has seen as a player. Lingering foot injury, or no injury, Wilson is doing what he can to make the most of his senior season.
“I always tell myself I’m going to take it week by week and day by day,” he said. “(I’m) using all of the resources I can for the final games and final months here.”