“Be prepared.” It’s not just for Scouts. It also goes for football players.
Why? Because you never know when the guy in front of you on the depth chart is going to get into a fight and get ejected and offer up a double-barreled salute to a non-adoring public as he is escorted off of the playing field.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Pat Elflein had prepared, and was prepared.
It was 2013 and the Buckeyes were in Ann Arbor. Michigan had just scored a touchdown to take a 21-14 lead early in the second quarter. Then-freshman Dontre Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff and was tackled. He was then mobbed by Wolverines and that didn’t sit well with anybody from Ohio State.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
Punches were thrown. Facemasks were grabbed. Flags flew like bursts of champagne in a championship locker room.
Wilson was ejected, as was senior right guard Marcus Hall, who famously exited with both middle-finger-guns blazing.
Enter redshirt freshman Pat Elflein, who replaced Hall on the offensive line.
“I’ll never forget that,” Elflein said on Monday. “We always talk about it, especially around Thanksgiving, because it’s always getting ready to play that game and you’re around all your family and getting to talk about that is awesome.”
Asked to relive it and Elflein instantly recalls every moment.
“I was a backup all year, never really played in any serious time, competitive time where you had to go in and do your job,” he said. “It was always just like cleanup. That game, I remember standing on the sideline. I was always ready to go in because I knew it was just one play away and you’re in.”
Preparation was the first step. The second step? Action.
“I saw a fight break out and someone told me that Marcus just threw a punch and I was like ‘Uh-oh,'” he said. “Then they started naming off numbers that were ejected and I heard 79, so I was like ‘All right, I’m in,’ and just going in there with those guys, you didn’t really have time to freak out. I just had to go in and start playing right away.”
Elflein stood tall in that game, helping the Buckeyes put up 393 yards rushing on the Wolverines. According to Elflein, he didn’t have time to be nervous or think about what he was doing. He was much too focused for any of that. It wasn’t until after the game that he began to really process it all.
“Everything happened so fast and I just remember at the end of the game I just took a second and thought, ‘Wow, I just went and played The Game, and we won,’ and getting to see my family after my first real playing time in that game,” he said. “I was thinking that I earned my first pair of gold pants, so that was really exciting. I’ll remember that one the rest of my life.”
How does somebody remain so focused when they are thrust into the biggest game of their life without the kind of experience to calm them down?
Simple. By being prepared. Elflein worked every week as if he was going to be starting because at any moment he could be. And nothing changed in his preparation for Michigan.
“It kind of got me going a little bit,” Elflein admitted of the brawl. “I wasn’t stunned and I know how rugged the rivalry is and something like that is always able to break out in a game like this, but I thrived on it.”