Perhaps it’s having a player on the roster with my last name (I had it first) that’s gotten me into football names recently. Not to mention that same young man, Tuf Borland, has a first name sent down from the football gods (or his parents, Jeny and Kyle) specifically for a linebacker. Not everyone was blessed with a moniker like that.
Others had to earn their names through actions, skill sets, or physical appearance. While their God-given names remained the same, many Buckeye players acquired/earned nicknames over the years. Some of these would go on to become so common to a diehard fan base that they often replaced their true name.
I’ve done my best to gather your input and compile a starting lineup of Ohio State football nicknames.
Here is your all-time Ohio State Nickname Team:
Quarterback – “12 Gauge”
This was an easy one for me. Other options existed, such as XBrax or XBrax 360, but those paled in comparison to 12 Gauge. Cardale Jones not only wore number 12, but has the strongest arm of any recent quarterback. To whomever first gave Jones the nickname, I salute you, sir or ma’am. You didn’t reach or overthink it. You just took what was there, slapped a label on it, and gave this national champion QB the nickname he deserved.
Running Back – “Beanie”
Teased for being skinny at a young age, Chris Wells was given the nickname “Beanie” for resembling a beanpole. Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen a beanpole, but the name no longer applies to Wells’ physique. The 6’2″, 230 pound running back had one of the most powerful stiff arms that I’ve seen at Ohio State and looked like a freight train when he broke loose (as he often did). Although he literally outgrew the description, he still carries the nickname to this day.
Running Back – “El Guapo”
The Handsome One. That’s the literal translation for “El Guapo,” so any guy would be happy to have it. At some point in his Buckeye career, an OSU writer referred to Carlos Hyde as “El Guapo,” and he loved it. To this day, he owns it on his social media accounts (wouldn’t you?). Hyde was/is a bruising runner and Urban Meyer’s first ever 1,000-yard running back. As a Cleveland Brown now, Hyde joins a crowded 2018 backfield (one could say there are a plethora of rushing options), but I hope El Guapo brings his signature flex to the endzone many times!
Wide Receiver/H-Back – “Philly”
Not unlike “Chic,” this is how most of the Buckeye fan base knew and spoke of wide receiver, Corey Brown. Having two Corey Browns from Pennsylvania on the roster in 2010, Jim Tressel opted to tell them apart by assigning them their closest big city as a nickname. Hence, Philly Brown came to be. Brown carried the moniker for several years, but recently decided to leave it behind him and continue on as Corey, once again.
Wide Receiver – “White Lightning”
You can likely guess the reasoning behind Doug Donley’s nickname. He was a high school standout in football, basketball and track, and was the fastest guy on Woody Hayes’ team as a freshman in 1977. Yes, Donley is a white guy. Fast + Caucasian = White Lightning. He said that his lack of size (6′, 175 lbs) and fear of getting crushed by defenders was a big motivator in running as fast as he did. To this day, White Lightning is still tied for second (about 3.5 inches shy of Cedric Anderson) in yards per catch in Buckeye history at 21.2.
Wide Receiver – “Bam”
Brandon Childress signed with Ohio State in 2001 as a defensive back before switching to offense. Though he had less than 400 yards receiving in his Buckeye career, Bam was a thrill to watch. He had an exciting burst with the ball, which led to a brief NFL career, despite his minimal impact on the college game. Minimal, that is, outside of the annual Spring Game, where Bam was a Buckeye legend.
Offensive Line – “The Slobs”
Offensive linemen need more love on an individual basis. As it goes, they’re more often viewed as a unit than as individuals. Sure, Orlando “Pancake” Pace could standout on his own here. But, for this article, I’ll be throwing The Slobs in with other offensive line greats, like The Electric Company and The Hogs. Coined by former Buckeye and “King Slob,” Andrew Norwell, the nickname has been in play for OSU offensive lines since 2013. It’s been phased out a bit in recent seasons, opting against the stereotypical “fat, lazy” lineman image.
Defensive End – “Big Bear” & “Little Bear”
No sense separating these two Bosa monsters. Big Bear, Joey, and Little Bear, Nick, will go down as two of the greatest defensive players in Ohio State history. Their nicknames don’t necessarily inspire fear, especially Nick’s, but their play does the talking. It’s also a bit comical, since nobody in their right mind would refer to Nick as “little,” but… *Bosa shrug emoji* … what can you do?
Defensive Tackle – “Big Daddy”
Even when you “slim down” from 350 pounds to a svelt 308, you can still have the nickname “Big Daddy.” This is what Dan Wilkinson did in his first season as a Buckeye, which led to his change from offensive to defensive lineman. The position switch was a wise one, as his improved athleticism translated very well on defense for John Cooper’s OSU teams. Wilkinson was an all-conference selection in both of his years on the field. He also was a consensus All-American as a redshirt sophomore, before leaving early to be the top overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1994.
Defensive Tackle – “Diesel”
Lesser known than “Big Daddy,” Diesel was a self-given nickname by Adolphus Washington back in his AAU basketball days. I realize that this breaks the cardinal sin of assigning yourself (or asking for) a nickname, but it’s fitting nonetheless. Washington went through an anti-Dan Wilkinson body transformation, gaining fifty pounds once he arrived on campus at OSU. This helped move him inside, where he became a dominant defensive tackle for the Bucks.
Linebacker – “Little Animal”
Another example of people clearly not understanding the word “little.” James Laurinaitis had no choice in the matter, as you can’t very well take on a nickname begun by your father and one-up him by adding “Big” to it. Thus, the Little Animal was born. For anyone unaware, his father was a part of the devastatingly popular wrestling tag-team, The Road Warriors/The Legion of Doom, individually known as Animal. James wore the nickname well, representing the Buckeyes as a tenacious defender and continuing on to a very good pro career.
Linebacker – “Big Kat”
This hometown linebacker came to OSU with a mountain of expectations and began delivering instantly. Sure, Big Kat is an easy play on his last name, but he also lived up to it. His ferocious hits left many an opposing player stunned as to what had just happened. Just ask Corby Jones from Missouri about Andy Katzenmoyer and he’ll tell you… well, probably nothing. I doubt if he even wants to bring him up. I’m assuming Jones is still planted somewhere around the 23-yard line, where the Big Kat left him in 1997.
Linebacker – “Pepper”
Put black pepper on a few breakfast foods and get gifted with a nickname for life. Such was the case for Thomas Johnson. His aunt noticed that he would pour black pepper on his cereal (Eggs, Thomas. It goes on your eggs.) and blessed him with a nickname that would span his entire playing and coaching career. Heck, it even made it onto video games as his official name. Pepper Johnson had a tremendous OSU career, leading Earle Bruce’s ’84 and ’85 teams in tackles. He then continued on to the NFL where he played for 13 seasons and coached for another 17.
Defensive Back – “Chic”
*Before you say it… I know. We all think of Chic Harley as a guy running the ball, weaving in and out of defenders. However, since he played several positions, defensive back included, I’m using creative license to get him (and my next RB/DB) onto this list.*
As with many nicknames on this list, Harley’s was an easy one. As a kid, a 12-year old Charles William Harley relocated with his family from Chicago to Columbus, Ohio. That’s it. Chicago –> Chic. Simple as that, and yet that’s how he would be known as he became Ohio State’s first truly special footballer.
Defensive Back – “Hopalong”
Howard Cassady came about his nickname a bit differently than the other running back on this roster. After watching the talented freshman (OSU’s third Heisman Trophy winner) hop all over the field avoiding tacklers in a game against Indiana, sportswriters dubbed him Hopalong Cassady. The name came from a fictional cowboy hero (Hopalong Cassidy) from turn of the century novels and short stories. In his time at OSU, Hopalong was better known for his offensive prowess, but was also described as one of the finest defensive backs to play the game.
Defensive Back – “Malik the Freak”
As you just gathered from my previous two entries, OSU fans need to do a better job of creating memorable nicknames for our defensive backs. Heck, we’re looking like DBU recently, and I struggled to come up with more than a couple. That said, my next one, Malik “The Freak” Hooker certainly lived up to his. A relatively under-the-radar 3* recruit, Hooker had perhaps the best single-season for a Buckeye DB in recent memory and is now considered the standard for OSU safeties. If you watched him play in 2016, you understand the origin of his nickname. If you didn’t get the chance, just watch this one play and you’ll understand.
Defensive Back – “The Assassin”
The word “assassin” puts people on edge. It’s scary to think about someone being a trained killer. Well, Jack Tatum may not have been a killer, but he was as scary and violent a player as I’ve ever seen. He was talented in coverage, often shadowing the team’s best receiver, but was best known for his tenacious hits.
At a banquet celebrating the 1968 National Champion Ohio State team, I was lucky enough to attend and sit at the same table as Jim Otis and John Brockington. I asked John if Tatum was truly as cold and dangerous as the his legend would have us believe. He needed only one short story to confirm. According to Brockington:
“We played in an all-star game and I was on the opposing team as Jack. I went for a pass and he hit me and knocked me out cold. Afterward, I asked him why he did it, seeing as we were teammates at OSU. He said, simply, “You got in my way.”
The Assassin, indeed.