Late in Ohio State’s typically one-sided victory over Indiana, Ohio State neared the Indiana end zone one more time. OSU led 49-14, with the game safely salted away and whatever style points were to be earned for the CFP having been earned. Under 9 minutes remained on the game clock. From the Indiana 8, OSU QB CJ Stroud dropped back to pass and lofted a spiral into the right side of the end zone, complete for another OSU touchdown.

To be honest, in the very moment, it felt like a tack-on touchdown. Like Ryan Day let the Heisman candidate pad his stats with another easy touchdown, and left the first team out there an awfully long time. Like another choreographed moment in a million-dollar game in an athletic industry that is struggling to still bite off the humility to call itself amateur. Like the rich getting even richer, and the march toward OSU’s almost inevitable CFP spot being paved with another moment of pain for a group of exhausted and overwhelmed Indiana Hoosiers.

But then, I saw who caught the ball. And that made all the difference.

Kamryn Babb was a 4-star recruit in the incoming recruiting class of 2018. He was another athletic, speedy, versatile pass catcher, no doubt hoping to be the next KJ Hill or Parris Campbell. Babb was ranked well ahead of another OSU wide receiver signee, Chris Olave. But while Olave became a starter, then a star, then a first-round NFL Draft pick, Babb did not.

Babb tore his ACL for the first time back in high school. During a practice before his senior season, he suffered the injury, and missed much of his senior season. If only that had been the end instead of the beginning of his troubles.

Babb has torn his ACLs 4 times in total — twice on each knee — and has been unable to play in the 2018, 2019 and 2021 football seasons. On the fourth injury, in the spring of 2021, Babb admitted that he considered quitting football, but he didn’t consider it for long. He called his father and stepmother to tell them of the injury, but realizing that they were on vacation, told them the news was no big deal and he’d tell them when he saw them on a future visit to Columbus.

Like a million kids in a million towns and cities, Kamryn Babb loved football. Like a much smaller number, the game apparently loved him back, in that it fostered a collection of skills that made him an Ohio State Buckeye and one of the most talented players at his position in the nation. But then, the game basically conducted a long-term siege on his knees.

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And with a chance to choose giving up or giving in, to choose bitterness or resentment, Babb did what we like to think we’d all do. He loved the game anyway.

The game has somehow, in its own time and peculiar fashion, loved him back.

Among the times that was evident was the 2021 moment when an injured Babb got an honor that most healthy players never achieve.

But it was even more evident on Saturday.

Babb had played in 7 games during the 2020 season, but never caught a pass. He had not played in a game in the 2022 season, but up several scores, at home, Day saw a chance to call on Babb.

In the end, it wasn’t about the score, or Stroud’s Heisman chances, or about the CFP, or even money. It was about a young man with a dream, a dream to play the game he loved and to shine in the Horseshoe and catch touchdowns as an Ohio State Buckeye.

Football can’t give Kamryn Babb back his knees. It can’t give him back the years. It can’t teleport him to play beside Chris Olave on Sundays.

But football gave him one small taste of what could have been, and it ripped away the bitterness of having the dream never be. Because the dream was real. It was a different kind of real. It took surgeries and rehabs and heartbreak. It demanded the building of faith and the refining of a character that will serve Kamryn Babb far longer than game-breaking speed or good hands.

The moment wasn’t enough. And yet, the moment was perfect.