Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer didn't wait long after his team's win over Michigan to tell everyone what he thought about his 2012 seniors. In his post-game press conference Meyer said it was his goal to make sure that those seniors were never forgotten.
But what made that group so special?
The Buckeyes' undefeated season was a total team effort. Every class played a big role. The freshmen provided depth, the sophomores provided flash and the juniors were the backbone. But it was the seniors that were the heart and soul of the team.
Redemption for 2008 Recruiting Class
The 2008 recruiting class for Jim Tressel and Ohio State was headlined by QB Terrelle Pryor, receiver Devier Posey and five-star offensive linemen J.B. Shugarts, Mike Brewster and Mike Adams.
Those five have all moved on to the NFL. Before Pryor, Posey and Adams left, they made other headlines—the type of headlines that led to Jim Tressel's firing and a 6-7 record last season.
However, eight members of the 2008 recruiting class were a part of Ohio State's undefeated season. In fact, six of those players were starters and another played starters minutes.
Jake Stoneburner started at receiver/tight end. Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams made up half of the Buckeyes' defensive line. Etienne Sabino suffered a broken leg and missed four games but started when healthy. Travis Howard started at cornerback while Orhian Johnson played nickelback and Ben Buchanan punted.
The last remaining member of the 2008 class, Zach Domicone, struggled with injuries but participated in eight games on special teams and as a backup safety.
Despite never winning the National Championship that Ohio State fans dreamed of, these eight seniors were able to change the way the 2008 class will be thought of in the future.
2009 Class Wins Despite Loses
According to Scout.com Ohio State had the best recruiting class in America in 2009. Ohio State lost several star members of this class to injuries, transfers or character issues. However, the class's legacy was saved by a great performance in 2012.
The 2009 class didn't provide a lot of senior starters in 2012—only three seniors from this class started—but those three proved that quality trumps quantity.
The three true senior starters were right tackle Reid Fragel, defensive end John Simon and fullback/linebacker Zach Boren.
Backup linebacker Storm Klein and backup fullback Adam Homan also used up their fourth years of eligibility in 2012.
Humility and Versatility
After seeing the selfishness of the 2011 senior class and what it did to the Buckeyes' 2011 season, it seemed like the 2012 senior class decided they would not make the same mistake. Therefore, they put their personal goals aside and went all-in for the team.
No player showed a greater team-first mentality than Zach Boren. He was a four-year starter at fullback but at the request of Meyer gave up his spot at fullback in the middle of his senior season to compete for the job at middle linebacker.
Boren wasn't the only member of the 2012 senior class to change positions. In fact, of the 13 seniors who were on scholarship their whole careers, seven changed positions at some point.
Simon came in as a defensive tackle and during his career played strong-side and weak-side defensive end. Williams mainly played weak-side defensive end, but occasionally played linebacker.
Johnson played both safety and nickelback while Sabino switched linebacker spots.
If the 2012 senior class at Ohio State will be remembered for one thing—other than their undefeated record of course—it will be its leadership.
The 2011 team looked like a rudder-less ship, partially because they were being coached by a first-time head coach in Luke Fickell, but mainly because the seniors failed to lead.
Even though the junior class had more starters and the sophomore class had the superstar, it was the seniors that kept the train on the tracks—even if they weren't able to play all the time.
Of the five captains—Boren, Simon, Sabino, Goebel and Jordan Hall—only Boren and Goebel played in every game. Added to Sabino's four-game absence was Hall's foot injury which forced him to miss the first two games and then a knee injury in his third game that forced him to miss the last six games.
Lastly, Simon missed the Michigan game with a knee injury, the only game Simon didn't play in during his Buckeye career.
Something to Build Upon
As a new coach, with a 6-7 team and a bowl ban it would have been easy for Meyer to pull the plug on the 2012 season before it even began. It would have been understandable and some Buckeye fans even encouraged Ohio State to sit the seniors and play the younger players to prepare for 2013 and beyond.
But there was no way a competitive guy like Meyer could have done that. Luckily for Ohio State fans he didn't. Due to the leadership and dedication from the 2012 seniors the rest of the team learned lessons more valuable than a couple humbling loses could ever teach a team.
Besides, the underclassmen learned more this season watching the dedication to greatness the 2012 seniors posses than they would have on the field losing. So when you watch the Buckeyes win in 2013 and beyond remember the class that wouldn't let its program fall on their watch: the 2012 senior class.