At the end of a perfect regular season that yielded no tangible reward, Ohio State is fixated on the future. Its trophy for going 12-0? Hope. Its payout? Optimism.
It's fitting that during a week soundtracked by talk of next year's Buckeyes, a piece of the program's future pressed an U.S. All-American jersey against his chest while his entire high school looked on from auditorium seats.
The ceremony fell in stride with the theme of "just wait." That's a fact that isn't lost on Ohio State commit Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott knows Monday morning's jersey presentation was just a small part of a larger picture. He's flattered by the act, sure, but the event conjured other, more macro-level thoughts.
"We (Ohio State) have a lot of momentum going into next year," Elliott said, referencing both the school's undefeated season and the All-American honor he'd just officially accepted. "Things are great there, and they're only going to get better."
Elliott donned a plain white T-shirt and dark jeans as he accepted his yellow, No. 13 All-Star jersey. He thanked his teammates. He mentioned his family. He used the term "lifelong dream." All the usual acceptance-speech platitudes were present and accounted for. It wasn't until after the ceremony, when he began to talk about his future, that the four-star running back grew truly excited.
Individual awards? Ho hum. His future at a school playing elite-level, near-perfect football, on the other hand. Now that's something he wants to discuss. Turns out, there are things more exciting than individual accolades. The inflection in his voice as the subject changed revealed that much.
"The kind of athletes already there and the kind of guys that are coming in -- it's not just me -- we're going to be a national championship contender next year," he said. "It's a good time for Ohio State."
Elliott would know. He's seen it all up close. Just this weekend, he occupied space on the Buckeyes sideline and had an up-close view of his future team's 26-21 win over rival Michigan. The perfect season was polished off. And while Ohio State won't be awarded a single piece of hardware to show for the accomplishment, don't tell the program's newest All-American that all 12 wins were for naught.
"It meant a lot to everyone," Elliott said. "In the locker room after the game, it was a very positive mood. They did great things for those seniors that gave us all this momentum for next year."
But it's not just seniors creating the momentum. The stuff is everywhere. It's juniors. It's sophomores. It's incoming freshmen.