Nick Conner as Chris Borland and the Lessons Learned Therein

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Last updated: 06/19/2014 2:19 AM
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Football Recruiting
Nick Conner as Chris Borland and the Lessons Learned Therein
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — More than once since he has been at Ohio State, Urban Meyer has stood at a podium and wondered aloud how a player like former Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland -- an Ohioan -- didn't end up a Buckeye.

"Just disappointed he's not here," is how Meyer put it the week of the Wisconsin game a year ago.

Playing for the Wisconsin Badgers, Borland ended up a three-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection, and was the Freshman of the Year in 2009. He was also named the Big Ten's Linebacker of the Year following the 2013 season.

Meyer has called Borland one of the best blitzing linebackers that he has ever seen, while simultaneously lamenting his own uneven situation at linebacker. Undoubtedly, he has imagined Borland and Ryan Shazier playing side by side in a perfect Buckeye world.

So how did Borland not end up at Ohio State? Simple answer, he wasn't offered.

Borland played at Kettering Alter, mostly on offense until his senior season. He was a running back, or an undersized fullback, and despite winning the linebacker MVP at the Columbus NFTC prior to his senior season, there just wasn't that much interest.

In fact, according to both Rivals and Scout, Borland's lone offer came from Wisconsin, and that was based on his camp performances at a position that he didn't really play much of in high school.

Should Ohio State have taken a flyer on Borland? Well, considering they already had fullbacks Zach Boren and Adam Homan committed, as well big back Carlos Hyde coming into the fold, there just wasn't a need.

In hindsight, was Borland good enough to play linebacker at Ohio State? Absolutely. Was it a miss? Maybe after the fact, but not during. The Buckeyes already had three linebacker commits, including five-star Pennsylvanian Dorian Bell, so Jim Tressel and his staff felt pretty good about what they had.

So what does this have to do with Nick Conner, Ohio State's first 2015 linebacker commitment? Well, until Tuesday when Conner was finally offered, he was a legitimate possibility to be the next guy that Meyer wondered why he wasn't a Buckeye, all the while having to play against him for the next four years.

Why do some kids leave the state of Ohio? Because the Buckeye coaches have their gaze focused out of state, or because the kids are late bloomers, or because OSU has already filled a spot in recruiting.

It happens for any number of reasons, and after consistently performing at a high level this summer in camp settings, Meyer didn't want Conner to become the latest in a long line of wondering.

If Ohio State hadn't offered Conner, he probably goes to Michigan State and then the Buckeyes would have to deal with him for the next four or five years, and who knows how many times Meyer kicks himself for not offering.

Now, however, that doomsday scenario is no longer in the picture and Conner will be a Buckeye.

How much of it had to do with the "Chris Borland Factor" and how much had to do with Conner simply proving himself over and over again in front of the OSU coaches?

Or how much more possible did Sh'Mar Kilby-Lane's surprise commitment to Florida State make this? After all, when Kilby-Lane was thought to be a Buckeye lock, it seemed Ohio State was just fine with taking three linebackers in the 2015 class.

It is likely all interconnected. With Kilby-Lane out of the picture, the Buckeyes had room for a linebacker who knocked their socks off, and that's what Conner ended up doing.

If you're going to lie awake at night wondering about the one that got away, then maybe you shouldn't let that one get away in the first place.

Barring anything unforeseen, Nick Conner will be a Buckeye next season, and Urban Meyer won't have to ask himself how Conner didn't end up in Scarlet and Gray.

Instead, he can just be happy that an Ohio kid wanted so badly to be a Buckeye that he wouldn't take "not this year" for an answer. He battled and worked, forcing OSU's hand through his stellar performances on the field this summer.

For Meyer, the "what if" scenarios can now be discarded in favor of the "what is".

Chris Borland and Nick Conner are very different players, but the fear of them being extremely similar may have ultimately been what made him a Buckeye.

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