Following the 2007 college football season, a handful of Ohio State Buckeyes were faced with the fortunate, yet taxing decision of whether to return for their senior seasons or make the jump the professional ranks a year early.
Many football players have left college prematurely en route to outstanding careers in the National Football League, but some student-athletes have resisted the pressure to move on in return for one more season of glory on Saturday afternoons.
That has been the case many times at Ohio State, with current and past household NFL names returning to play out their careers as Buckeyes. Names like Joey Galloway, A.J. Hawk and Mike Vrabel all reached the NFL playoffs in 2007, while past greats like Eddie George and Chris Spielman enjoyed Pro Bowl careers.
In 2008, a distinguished group of Buckeye seniors all passed up opportunities at the pro level and will take the field one more time with visions of a fourth-consecutive Big Ten title and another berth in the BCS Championship in the forefront.
Here is a look back at how some senior seasons played out for past Buckeyes who chose to don the Scarlet and Gray one more time.
A. J. Hawk capped off a brilliant senior year by becoming Ohio State’s fifth Lombardi Award winner. Announcing his return in December 2004, Hawk flourished in his senior season, finishing the 2005 campaign with a team-high 121 tackles and 9.5 sacks.
A first-team All-American both as a junior and senior, Hawk was the Big Ten pre-season and post-season Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 and the Defensive MVP of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Following the season, Hawk was the fifth player taken in the NFL draft, going to the Green Bay Packers. Hawk started all 16 games for the 13-3 Packers. He had 155 tackles for a team that fell just three points shy of the Super Bowl.
Strong Safety, 1999-02
Just the seventh three-time All-American in Ohio State football history, Doss returned to Ohio State for his senior season. He announced his decision during a tearful press conference following his 2001 junior campaign.
As one of the team’s two co-captains, Doss was an inspiration both on and off the field during Ohio State’s magical run to the 2002 National Championship. In his final game as a Buckeye, Doss was named Defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl, where Ohio State captured its first consensus national title since 1968 with a thrilling 31-24 double-overtime victory over Miami.
Antoine Winfield, a team captain as a senior, is one of the all-time great defensive backs in Ohio State history. As a senior in 1998, Winfield was the first Buckeye to win the coveted Thorpe Award as the nation’s outstanding defensive back. A two-time All-American, a consensus choice in 1998, Winfield was one of five finalists for the Football News Defensive Player of the Year Award. He was named first-team All-America by the Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp, the Football Writers and the Football News.
In addition, Winfield was named the Buckeyes’ Bill Willis Defensive Player of the Year award winner. He led the team in tackles five times, including a magnificent 10-tackle performance in a 38-16 win against Michigan on senior day in Ohio Stadium.
Winfield was a first-round selection by the Buffalo Bills in 1999 and recently finished his ninth NFL season with the Minnesota Vikings.
Defensive end 1993-96
Mike Vrabel, a two-time All-America selection, made his mark as one of the most tenacious and feared pass rushers in Ohio State history. As a junior in 1995, he set a single-season school record with 13 sacks. He returned in 1996 to up his career sacks to 36, also a Buckeye standard. As a senior, Vrabel repeated as the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year in helping lead the 1996 Buckeyes to a Big Ten Co-Championship, the No. 2 overall ranking and a victory in the Rose Bowl over Arizona State.
The Akron, Ohio, native was a candidate for the 2007 GMAC Defensive Player of the Year award and has reached the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots for the fourth time. He is a 2007 NFL Pro Bowl selection.
Eddie George’s senior season does not need much explanation. He can let his hardware do the talking. A 1,400-yard rusher in 1994, George he was a runaway choice for the 1995 Heisman Trophy. George’s other honors in 1995 included the Doak Walker Award, the Maxwell Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award and Big Ten MVP. He also was a team co-captain.
In becoming Ohio State’s sixth Heisman recipient, George etched his name into the OSU record book by rushing for a school-record 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns. Included in that yardage total were three 200-yard games, one of which was an Ohio State record 314 yards against Illinois Nov. 11, 1995.
Selected by the Houston Oilers in the first round of the NFL Draft, he was the 1996 NFL Rookie of the Year. George went on to play in four Pro Bowls and top 10,000 yards for his career.
In June of 2001, George earned a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture from Ohio State.
After helping the Buckeyes to the 1993 Big Ten Co-Championship with an exciting season that included 11 receiving touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards through the air, Joey Galloway decided to comeback for his senior season with Ohio State. He led the Buckeyes with 44 catches and seven touchdowns, including an 8-catch, 169-yard game vs. Alabama in the 1995 Citrus Bowl, which helped solidify his first-round NFL draft status.
Galloway, who helped the Buckeyes score a 22-6 victory over Michigan in 1994, was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. In 2007, he finished his 13th NFL season, the same way it began, leading his team (Tampa Bay) in receptions and topping 1,000 yards. Galloway eclipsed the 10,000-yard mark last season as well in helping the Buccaneers reach the playoffs.
An All-American in 1986, Spielman returned to Ohio State and concluded his brilliant career in 1987 by winning the Lombardi Award. Spielman is in the Ohio State records book for a number of reasons. He led the Buckeyes in total tackles in 1986 and 1987 and he is Ohio State’s all-time leader in solo tackles (283). A three-time All-Big Ten choice and a two-time All-American, Spielman led the Buckeyes to a classic 23-20, come-from-behind win at Michigan in 1987.
Upon leaving Ohio State, Spielman became recognized as one of the NFL’s top players after finishing his 12-year career in 1999 with the Cleveland Browns. Spielman was a five-time All-Pro performer for the Detroit Lions and helped lead Buffalo to a playoff berth in 1996.