One year ago at this time, Ohio State middle linebacker Tuf Borland was furiously working his way back from an Achilles injury that he suffered in the spring.
When it happened, then-head coach Urban Meyer remarked that Borland was a fast healer and would be back sooner than people expected.
He was correct. An injury that would have kept most players out until midseason couldn’t even keep Borland out of the season opener.
Despite spending most of his spring and summer rehabbing and only practicing sporadically, Borland earned his team’s respect and was voted a captain as a redshirt sophomore.
One year later, Borland is completely healthy and once again a team captain.
But questions still remain.
Borland may have been a fast healer, but it was clear at times during the season that he wasn’t entirely healthy. The labored gait here and there was impossible to miss.
Despite the issues, Borland finished third on the team with 67 tackles and 9.0 tackles for loss.
This summer, he has once again established himself as the team’s middle linebacker. His position coach Al Washington will cite a number of different reasons for that, but health cannot be ignored.
“It’s night and day,” Borland said. “I feel a huge difference. Just excited for the upcoming season.”
Last year while Borland was rehabbing and then practicing and then playing, so much of what was happening was the first time his Achilles tendon had gone through that particular test. That’s a considerable weight to put on somebody’s figurative shoulders and literal tendons.
That weight now for Borland has been lifted.
“Just to go through a whole winter, whole spring, whole summer, all the workouts, everything with the team, that instills some confidence in you that you can play at a high level and I feel exactly that,” he said.
Despite the healthy Achilles, Borland missed most of spring for precautionary reasons after taking a helmet to the knee. As such, Al Washington didn’t get to see much of him in the spring.
After three weeks of fall camp, however, he’s seen enough to know why his teammates and coaches like him as much as they do.
“I see why he is a captain and I see why he was on a watch list. The Butkus watch list, I think it was,” Washington said. “He is an ultra-competitive kid. He’s gotten better from practice one to now. He’s a perfectionist. So that’s what I’ve seen because I didn’t know. This spring I didn’t get a chance to see him really. Love that kid.”
Not being 100% and being asked to lead a defense is a tall task, and one that didn’t always go perfectly for Borland last year. He received criticism from media and fans alike, and he rarely had to look far to find an unkind word.
That continues to this day, despite the Buckeyes having not yet played a single game this year.
Borland says he doesn’t let it get to him.
“No, I think that comes with the territory of being an athlete at Ohio State,” he said. “You’re on the biggest stage. People are going to come at you. People are going to say things, but it’s part of the job. As you progress to higher levels, you just kind of got to put that aside and just do your job.”
This is something that Washington has talked to his players about on a daily basis.
“The criticism and the compliments, it’s about what you think,” Washington said. “You look in the mirror. And you know if you’re putting in the work. That’s the beautiful thing about right now with these guys, you got to learn how to create the mindset you want to have. And so when people criticize, I hear it all time, I don’t pay it any mind. You know, we come to work. And you look at your body of work and practice, and you evaluate that.
“And I like that he is soft spoken, because his actions speak louder anyway. Right? You think about that. He’s a soft spoken leader. Captain, they voted. So that’s what you want. I’m excited for him. He’s feeling good. And to the kid’s credit, he’s worked himself to that point. And he’s gonna continue to work. We still got a lot of work to do.”
Based on Borland’s struggles last season, it was expected that he would be pushed for the starting job during camp. According to Washington, he absolutely has been pushed, but he is still ahead of junior Baron Browning and Teradja Mitchell because of one single reason.
“Yeah, you know, when people say I want to see this and that, you know what, how about this? How about let’s see them all,” Washington said.
“You asked the question ‘how does Tuf do it?’ You watch the tape. You come in with me and watch the tape. You understand what I’m saying? There’s a reason. That kid is a warrior and he gets to the ball. And so, you know, Teradja and Baron, those guys are gonna play too. We’re all together. You know, so, when people say [somebody should be playing instead of Borland], I feel like they’re not living in our [world.] But you know, it’s all good.”