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Former Buckeye represents Columbus Crew at Connor Senn Memorial Game in Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium

by Emily Krizan, Ohio State Athletics Communications

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When defender Eric Brunner of the Columbus Crew laces up his cleats and puts on his black and gold jersey, he still remembers the lessons he learned as a former player on the Ohio State men’s soccer team. Because even though Brunner now plays at a higher level and in front of a larger crowd, it wasn’t long ago that he was instead adorned in scarlet and gray and leading the Ohio State men’s soccer team to a final four appearance.

A native of Dublin, Ohio, Brunner began his career at Ohio State in 2005 after spending his freshman campaign at the University of Maryland. Once referred to by head coach John Bluem as the “whole package,” Brunner quickly became an integral part of the Buckeye line-up, starting in 79 games and scoring 10 goals in his tenure.

An NSCAA All-American selection, Brunner entered the 2008 MLS Super Draft as the No.16 overall pick. Spending time with the New York Red Bulls and the Miami FC, Brunner was traded home to the Columbus Crew in March 2009 and, in recent weeks, Brunner has moved up on the Crew’s depth chart, starting in the three of the last four games for Columbus.

“I was extremely excited that my friends and family are able to come to watch me play,” Brunner said. “I get to see them every day now.”

Last Tuesday, May 5, Brunner had the opportunity to return to Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium when he competed in the annual Connor Senn Memorial Game. In a competition which matches the Ohio State Buckeyes against the Columbus Crew, the two teams battled for bragging rights in support of a worthy cause.

“Tonight definitely brought back memories,” Brunner said after the game. “It has been a few years since I have played in the Jesse. It was a blast and everything I remembered. They (Ohio State) played us tough.”

The game, now in its eighth year, was created in the memory of former Buckeye Connor Senn. Senn, who joined the Buckeye roster as a walk-on defender in the 2001 season, collapsed during a Sept. 26, 2001 match-up against Akron and later passed away from congenital heart failure.

Even as a freshman, Senn was always recognized for his selflessness and dedication to the men’s soccer program, and a plaque hanging outside the men’s locker room reminds past and present players to “Play Like Connor Today.”

“We share the story of Connor Senn with all our recruits and their families before they ever come to Ohio State,” Bluem said “They are aware of who Connor was and what he meant to our program and now that’s carried into the community with the help of the Columbus Crew.”

And while the Crew defeated the Buckeyes by a 3-1 decision, Brunner and members of both soccer squads still took time to reflect on the game’s deeper meaning.

“It’s one of those businesses where if you aren’t at the top of your game and don’t play 100 percent, then someone else is going to take your job,” Brunner said. “I think Connor had that mentality when he played here and I think he knew it before a lot of people did and it’s something I definitely strive to do.”

No stranger to the Connor Senn Memorial Game and what it represents, Brunner also remembers what it was like to be on the other side of the match-up as a former Buckeye.

“We would definitely come out and play full tilt,” Brunner said. “We wanted to prove ourselves. It was a tough battle, and it’s always good to play against good competition.”

Last Saturday, when Brunner and the Crew battled the Kansas City Wizards for their first win of the 2009 season, everyone competing had the lessons learned at the Connor Senn Memorial Match fresh on their minds. And for Brunner, who played the final minutes of the game in front of his closest friends and family, the opportunity to play like Connor, today and every day, was a moment he relished.