Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade came back to Ohio State for one more run. So far, so good.
All in all, this is what they came back for.
Undefeated. In position to get back to the College Football Playoff.
Have things been perfect? No. Few seasons are. But even with the adversity and their own struggles, Ohio State veterans Wyatt Davis and Shaun Wade were able to come back to play a COVID-shortened season and make one more run at a national championship. So far, things are going as scheduled.
But the season hasn’t been smooth sailing. Then again, what good thing comes without some hard work?
Of course, a lot of fans just feel lucky they’re getting to see these two at all. It never was supposed to happen.
Flash back to early September, when the B1G plan was to have no season in the fall. Games would begin in January, with only a conference championship and possibly a Rose Bowl — but no one even really knew if that would happen. So players started to opt out, to focus on their professional football opportunities, and both Davis and Wade took that route. It made sense for them, as players and as people.
Wade, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., was listed as Todd McShay’s No. 2 cornerback and No. 13 prospect overall for the 2021 NFL draft. Davis, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound junior right guard, was listed as the No. 30 draft prospect by McShay and as the No. 1 draft-eligible guard by Mel Kiper.
But something happened on the way to the NFL. College football began. Schedules were released and games were played in other leagues. The teams and players of the B1G were left behind — until they, too, decided to come back. Kind of like the Prodigal Son, the B1G chose to bring football back, which meant the Buckeyes would get an opportunity to play after all.
Suddenly, Wade and Davis wanted to come back, too. They wanted a chance to play for a national championship.
They opted back in.
Wade told ESPN’s Outside the Lines in September that he’d hired an agent when he opted out, but that he never signed paperwork with the agency. It allowed him to come back to the Buckeyes with no strings. Davis and his family had been waiting to hear any kind of good news to see if he could still play this season. When they did, it was no decision at all to stay in school.
“It wasn’t even a topic of conversation,” Davis’ father, Duane, told cleveland.com. “He wanted that opportunity to play with all his guys and to play for another championship and probably, more importantly, get another shot at Clemson.”
“Really, back in January, I didn’t go to the draft and my goal was to come back, be a captain, get my degree,” Wade told SportsCenter. “And they didn’t cancel football. Now it’s back. So since it’s back, we’ve got a chance to win a national championship. That’s been my goal since day one. So that’s what we’re striving for.”
But I think all would agree it hasn’t gone as smoothly as either athlete would have thought.
The Buckeyes’ season started out right, with a whipping of Nebraska.
It continued with a win over Penn State, although the Nittany Lions did fare well in the second half. That pattern continued against Rutgers, which outscored the Buckeyes 24-14 in the second half of a blowout Ohio State victory. Then came a canceled contest against Maryland, and last week’s troubling victory over Indiana, which looked as if the Hoosiers could’ve earned an upset with a few more minutes of game time.
Even within those games, Wade and Davis haven’t been the best versions of themselves. Wade has had issues transitioning from playing corner in the slot (which is what he did last season) to working on the outside this year. Two receivers have gone for record-setting days against him — Penn State’s Jahan Dotson caught 8 passes for 144 yards and 3 touchdowns while Indiana’s Ty Fryfogle went for 7 catches for 218 yards and another 3 scores.
But when Ohio State needed it the most, Wade was there, picking off a pass against Indiana and running it back 36 yards for his first career pick-6 interception. The points provided the winning margin.
Davis’ offensive line has, at times, struggled to keep Justin Fields clean this season. Blame it on the line, the coverage, or blame it on Fields’ tendency to hold on to the ball too long, but it’s true. Against Indiana, Ohio State gave up 5 sacks. And even Davis himself had an uncharacteristic personal foul penalty when he responded to a Hoosier who baited him into a tussle.
But later in the game, you saw Davis making up for it, throwing a huge block to spring Master Teague for a touchdown run.
It’s just what these guys do — they’ve been overcoming adversity this season. They persevere.
Now, they face their biggest tests. Can they keep improving, and keep helping their teammates improve, so Ohio State can play for that national championship?
“The greatest (defensive backs) had balls caught on them,” Wade told the Dayton Daily News. “It happens. You’ve just got to snap and clear and move on to the next play. Really all I care about is winning. You’re going to be disappointed when you want to be great. … Even when I have a good game, I’m always going to know some play y’all probably don’t see that I want to get better at, so at the end of the day I just want to get better. That’s all I care about. Me getting better and this team getting better.”
And he said he doesn’t mind criticism.
“If I play bad and we win the natty, I’m gonna be happy because we won the natty, know what I’m saying?” Wade said. “That’s just how I am, how I was my whole life.”
Davis has said all season that he’s just been really thankful for each game.
“That was the first thing that I was thinking about when I woke up this morning, was just like, wow, I can’t believe that a couple months ago it really seemed like this wasn’t going to happen,” Davis said after the Week 1 win over Nebraska.
“I was just so grateful that I was able to get reinstated and we were able to get the ball rolling with the Big Ten. I’m just really thankful for the opportunity and everyone behind it, coach Day, coach (Gene) Smith and our president (Kristina Johnson) coming along and vouching for us. It’s definitely a blessing.”
It’s a blessing the two teammates initially thought would never happen. It’ll be interesting to see where they take it from here.