- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is a goal that hasn’t been checked off the list yet, perhaps the only hole on the résumé.
Ryan Shazier is quick to point it out, too, drawing attention to seemingly the only thing the Ohio State junior hasn’t done during one of the most prolific individual seasons in the country.
He leads the Big Ten in tackles. He spends as much time in opposing backfields as the offenses he has been sabotaging with such regularity. His combination of unnatural speed and fierce hitting has produced four fumbles.
But there’s still that one thing left for Shazier that would put the finishing touches on his personal to-do list and potentially put him over the top in the race to be honored as the nation’s best linebacker, an award that wasn’t on the checklist but he has made well known he’d like to win.
“I just wrote down my seasonal goals, what I wanted the team to do and what I wanted myself to do,” Shazier said. “I’m kind of meeting some of those goals right now, and that’s putting me in position for these awards right now.
“But I haven’t really caught an interception this year, and I planned on catching an interception. Pretty much everything else is going as planned.”
The script wasn’t necessarily designed to win Shazier individual acclaim, but that was certainly in the back of his mind when he wrote it after dealing the minor disappointment of being overlooked a year ago.
Shazier was every bit as effective for the Buckeyes as a sophomore, racking up tackles with ease, blowing up plays behind the line of scrimmage and, of course, nabbing an interception and returning it for a touchdown for a team that went undefeated. His numbers across the board compared favorably with Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, another linebacker for a team that went unbeaten during the regular season, but instead of earning an invitation to the Heisman Trophy celebration, Shazier wasn’t even voted the best player on his unit as John Simon claimed Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
For a team-first, well-respected leader for Ohio State, coming up short to Simon wasn’t exactly an issue for Shazier, but he wasn't even voted a first-team all-conference linebacker by the coaches despite leading the league in total tackles and tackles for loss. And he was aware of how his season stacked up with other linebackers not only in the Big Ten but around the country as well, and in topping it this year with 108 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles so far, he’s made it almost impossible to ignore him now.
“I was a little bit surprised,” Shazier said. “It was like, I saw some of my numbers added up against some of those other good players. But I knew with the circumstances we were going through [with a postseason ban], something like that could happen so I wasn’t all that surprised.
“It’s really important to be up for those types of awards because it’s always been a dream of mine to be one of the best players in the nation and one of the best players at my position.”
Shazier might not be in the Heisman conversation as the top overall player in the country, but he’s built a legitimate case at his position and is already a Butkus Award finalist.
In some ways, he remains in the shadow of other decorated teammates, with quarterback Braxton Miller restarting his Heisman campaign after an early injury and running back Carlos Hyde emerging as a possible conference player of the year option as well. But considering what else is on his preseason checklist, that certainly won’t bother him like the lack of an interception would.
“I’m just doing what I have to do for the team,” Shazier said. “Right now, I’m just happy that our team is one of the best teams in the nation.
“When you’re one of the best teams in the nation, everybody on the team is a good player.”
There aren’t enough trophies, though, to honor everybody. But if Shazier can add one more thing to his resume, there could be one with his name on it.
5dDan Murphy and Austin Ward