Buckeyes Hand Michigan Game Ball to Their Wounded Captain
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Simon was supposed to play the role of hero on Saturday, didn’t you know?
At least that was the natural ending of the book, for those who had peaked ahead to see how Ohio State’s beloved senior would finish out his career with the Buckeyes. What better way to go out than a legendary performance on Senior Day in the final home game of your career against the school’s most hated rival from the state up north.
Urban Meyer and John Simon on senior day.
Photo by Jim Davidson
But when Simon walked, or limped, down the Tunnel of Pride before Saturday’s game against Michigan, OSU head coach Urban Meyer had to meet his star captain halfway. To the sheer horror of the crowd that packed inside the Horseshoe on a cold, snowy day in Columbus, Simon was not in pads for the most important game of the year.
“I had a bad feeling early in the week when I saw his knee,” Meyer said.
“It was a bursa (sac injury) – it's not a structural issue, it's just the swelling we couldn't get out. And my man was in the training room early in the morning until late at night doing everything they could.”
The Buckeyes did a good job of keeping Simon’s injury under wraps, probably because this was hardly the first time this season where the senior defensive end had not practiced during the week.
He has battled injuries of all variety, ranging from bruised ribs, to an ankle sprain to a shoulder injury that Meyer said would have put most people in the hospital. And yet he played through it all. That’s John Simon. He is toughness personified, but some injuries are too tough for anyone to overcome.
Even John Simon.
“He was hurting before the game,” said teammate Nathan Williams.
“He was very emotional, obviously. Not being able to play in the final game of your senior year, you’re going to be emotional. He was pretty tore up.”
According to an Ohio State spokesperson, Simon injured his right knee at some point during last week’s win over Wisconsin. It was one of the most dominant performances of Simon’s career. He tied a school record with four sacks against the Badgers, but the knee started to swell on Sunday and it never really recovered the way they had hoped during the week.
That didn’t stop Simon from contributing to Ohio State’s 26-21 victory over Michigan on Saturday. There’s nothing that could have stopped that.
“He’s always there supporting us. He would help us out throughout the entire game telling us what the offense was doing,” Williams added.
“Like I said before, John’s an unbelievable leader and you can’t replace a guy like that.”
All they could do was play for him.
“When they de‑q'd him, it was like a possessed group on defense,” Meyer said.
“I know why. Because our brother was down and we presented him the game ball, which was deserving.”
The Buckeyes didn’t replace him with just one guy, although sophomore Michael Bennett got the start in his place. Bennett missed a few plays he could have made early in the game, but played pretty well in the second half, as the Buckeyes held the Wolverines to just 60 yards of offense on 21 plays.
With Simon out, freshman Adolphus Washington saw early playing time and made a key play in the first half. On Michigan’s first drive of the game, Washington lined up at end and went right by all-conference left tackle Taylor Lewan for a strip sack on quarterback Devin Gardner.
It was recovered by linebacker Zach Boren.
“Coach made a big emphasis that he was their best offensive lineman, so when my coaches brag on players, it makes me want to go at them more,” said Washington, a highly-touted recruit out of Cincinnati.
“So I just went out there and used fundamentals and stuff that we worked on it practice and it worked.”
Now Simon will hand the program off to guys like Washington, Bennett and Noah Spence, who also saw a lot of time in his first game against the Wolverines. Ohio State might have to replace all four starters on the defensive front next season, if Johnathan Hankins decides to leave early, but Simon is the one guy who has certainly left his mark on the program.
“John is the heart and soul,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said.
“Probably never going to have another one exactly like. You can’t compare him to anybody. The humility, and it’s not just the player. It has nothing to do with the player he is, it’s the type of person he, it’s the work ethic he shows, the example he shows.
“He’s just a special kid.”
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