When Ohio State ran out of the tunnel before its 38-7 win over Army, redshirt freshman linebacker Tuf Borland knew he was likely to see the first significant playing time of his career. However, when starting LB Chris Worley went down with a sprained foot, Borland stepped in and finished the day as the Buckeyes’ leading tackler.
“I kind of knew I was going to be rotated in, but I didn’t know it was going to be to that extent,” Borland said after the game. “We pride ourselves on being ready when our numbers are called.”
Borland finished the day with nine solo tackles and three assists. He spent much of the day responsible for bringing down the fullback, the first read in Army’s triple-option attack, and made the most of his opportunity. Borland said he knew he had to be precise in everything he did.
“They’re very disciplined,” Borland said of the Black Knights. “You have to be in the right spots all the time, you have to have everything covered in every situation.”
Borland’s sudden emergence may have come as a surprise to Buckeye fans, but his teammates said they knew what he was capable of doing.
“Coach told him early in the week, ‘get ready to play a lot more this week’ because he’s been doing so well in practice,” said junior defensive end Sam Hubbard. “He’s an instinctive player. He got his opportunity and he made the most of it.
“(Borland) and I are back there on punt together so I know really well. I know he’s a really disciplined guy. I expected him to have a big game and he did.”
OSU head coach Urban Meyer was pleased with what he saw from Borland, and hinted that he could see playing time even after Worley returns.
“Tuf played fantastic,” Meyer said. “Worley is a leader, but anybody that plays well gets an opportunity.”
After the game, Borland went out of his way to credit Worley and fellow linebackers Jerome Baker and Dante Booker with their roles in his performance.
“Chris, Bake, Booker, all those guys, coming off of the sideline, they’re always giving me tips. ‘Hey, I saw this, I saw that. You should do this differently.’”
Baker was impressed with Borland’s play.
“He came to perform,” Baker said. “Everybody knows Tuf, he does his job on the field, off the field, he takes care of his body. It’s good seeing him get some playing time and do what he did.”
While Borland’s teammates were quick to praise his play, they may still not be quite ready to embrace his unusual name.
During his redshirt season in 2016, former Buckeye linebacker Raekwon McMillan refused to call Borland “Tuf” in the locker room or the practice field, opting for synonyms like “Rugged” and “Stout” instead. That tradition has continued in the linebacker meeting room this fall, even though McMillan is now in the NFL.
Borland said he was pretty sure Saturday’s performance still wouldn’t be enough to get his teammates talking Tuf.
“Still, no. Anything but Tuf,” Borland said with a laugh. “Pretty much whatever they feel like calling me.”