Dieter Kurtenbach | Sun Sentinel
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Ask Ohio State linebacker and South Florida native Ryan Shazier to summarize his college career, and you’ll be met with a laugh.
Coming out of Plantation (Fla.) High, Shazier planned on one day playing for coach Urban Meyer in a BCS game. He’s excited for that dream to become a reality on Friday, when the Buckeyes play Clemson in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium.
But here’s the funny part — when Shazier envisioned playing in that BCS game under Meyer, he saw himself wearing the blue and orange of his home-state Florida Gators, not the crimson and gray of Ohio State.
Shazier is a player known for his ability to quickly recognize the shortest distance between him and the ballcarrier and remove it in a flash. The junior has been excellent on the field in his three years at Ohio State, but it’s the circumstances around him that have been anything but direct.
Shazier, who has 135 tackles this season, prefers to keep it simple and just call those circumstances “crazy.” Crazier yet? He said Monday he wouldn’t have changed a thing.
Shazier could have played college football at any school he wanted after he registered 87 tackles and 10 sacks in his junior season at Plantation, but in the summer before his senior season, he committed to Florida. He wanted to play for Meyer and stay in-state, so his family could watch him play home games.
Those plans were foiled when Meyer surprisingly retired from UF — for a second time — following the end of the 2010 regular season. Shazier, who was set to enroll in Gainesville in less than a month, was left slack jawed and with only a week to make his college decision. Would he stick with Florida or head elsewhere?
At the end of that week, Shazier picked Ohio State, citing coach Jim Tressel as the reason for his commitment.
Shazier enrolled at Ohio State in January 2011, and five months later, Tressel resigned amid an NCAA-violations scandal that eventually placed a one-year bowl ban on Ohio State, keeping 2012 Buckeyes out of the BCS National Championship Game, which was played in Sun Life Stadium last January.
Abandoned by two coaches before playing a single college game, Shazier had ample opportunities to question his decision to go to Ohio State, and he said Monday that, at the time, he took them. Now, looking back on those times with hindsight, Shazier said he’s glad he decided to stay.
“It’s something I look back at a lot. … Sometimes, when are up there, you wish you were home, because of the weather or that it’s so far (away),” Shazier said. “(But) You’ll never have another tradition of linebacker like Ohio State has — I felt that was the best situation for me at the moment.”
Shazier was poised to add to that tradition at linebacker. He played in 12 games his freshman season, starting the final three contests of the year for interim head coach Luke Fickell, who became Shazier’s position coach when Ohio State hired Meyer in November 2012.
“Coach Meyer always said ‘I’ll end up coaching you,’” Shazier said with a laugh. “It’s just tremendous to have one of the greatest or the greatest coach in college football history coaching me. It’s amazing.”
Under Meyer and Fickell, Shazier has morphed into one of the Big 10’s most dominant forces. He has 249 total tackles (40 for loss), 12 sacks and seven forced fumbles in his last two seasons, and those numbers have caught the attention of NFL scouts.
Shazier said Monday that he was told by the NFL Draft Advisory Board that he’d likely be a second round pick in the 2014 draft, were he to forgo his senior season. Some pundits consider him a first-round pick.
The linebacker has been faced with the decision to leave OSU more than once in his career, but going into the NFL Draft might be the toughest decision yet. If he does opt to leave, finishing his college career in South Florida would be a special ending.
“I’m going to talk it over with my coaches and parents and we’ll see how that goes,” Shazier said of his decision. “I feel like this game is more important. Especially in this atmosphere. … It’s going to be a great experience.”