December 21, 2012

12-OH: Shazier honors late friend

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

Having just wrapped up a perfect season unlike any other in program history, it's hard not to look back at the last 12 months of Ohio State football and not only marvel at the unlikeliness of what the Buckeyes accomplished in 2012, but also how far they've come since their 6-7 mark in 2011. With that in mind, I'll spend 12 days examining and reflecting on the 12 most important moments that helped create and stand out from just the sixth unbeaten and untied season in Ohio State history.

Yesterday, we reflected on one of the season's most spectacular plays. Today, we'll stay in State College, and examine the inspiring emergence of one of the Buckeyes' top defensive players.

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. -- By his own head coach's admittance, Ryan Shazier underachieved through the first half of Ohio State's season.

In his first full year as a starter, the Buckeyes' junior looked more like an athlete trying to fill a position than the linebacker that Urban Meyer needed him to be. Shazier's ineffectiveness was glaring, as OSU continuously gave up big plays and even bigger point totals.

"He's an athlete who's very blessed and runs around and makes tackles," Meyer said of Shazier. "But he's also out of position sometimes."

But in Ohio State's Oct. 20 win over Purdue, Shazier found himself in position plenty, recording 12 tackles, 1.5 of which came for a loss, and breaking up a pass. The effort earned him Ohio State's defensive player of the game award, and he was just getting started.

The Florida native would earn the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week award just seven days later, recording seven tackles, two sacks, and an interception return for the Buckeyes in their 35-22 win at Penn State. Shazier's effort spoke for itself in the form of numbers, but there was one number that meant more to him than any other that night: 48.

The eventual first team All-Big Ten performer's stellar performance against the Nittany Lions occurred after he traded in his traditional No. 10 uniform in favor of a No. 48 jersey. A one-game only deal, Shazier made the move to honor a late friend, Gary Curtis who served as a team manager while he was at Plantation high school.

"I was thinking about him the whole game because I knew I had his number on and it just felt like he was playing through me," Shazier said of Curtis after the game. "He was telling me what was going on and he just had my back."

After Curtis passed away last spring from muscular dystrophy, Shazier vowed to wear 48- his favorite number- for one of the Buckeyes' big primetime games. His first choice was to do it against Nebraska, but with it being a home game, 48 was unavailable as it is worn by walk-on linebacker Joe Burger. But since Burger doesn't travel with the team to away games, 48 was all Shazier's for a game that saw the Buckeyes come into Beaver Stadium as an underdog to the Nittany Lions.

"He wasn't on the team, but that was the number he always wore," Shazier said. "I told him that one game, I'm going to have your back, and that was the number he wore, and I just wanted to wear that number."

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound linebacker made his presence felt the most on the opening series of the second half, sacking Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin on second down. One play later, he intercepted an errant pass and returned it 17 yards for what would prove to be the game's deciding score.

"It felt amazing 'cause it almost felt like a dream," he said. "I've dropped so many picks this year, and when I caught the ball, it just felt amazing knowing that I'm helping my team out and it was a great momentum change."

Ultimately, Shazier had bigger performances thatn his one against the Nittany Lions. But given the circumstance and the late friend that he honored, there was a special feeling around No. 48 on that October night, that was reminiscent of Chris Vance catching a 30-yard touchdown a day after his brother passed away in 2002.


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