Tracy Sprinkle’s long path to becoming a starter for No. 5 Ohio State is about to reach its end.
The fifth-year senior gets ready to take the field for the Buckeyes for the last time in the Cotton Bowl against No. 8 USC on Friday night.
“I’m trying to enjoy my last moments while I can,” said Sprinkle, a former Elyria High standout who won the 2012 Golden Helmet. “There’s always stories being written and people talking about it, but I feel like I had a great impact here. It’s something that’s a true blessing to be able to do that at a huge university that’s tradition rich like Ohio State.”
After three years of working his way up the depth chart, Sprinkle was named a starter on the defensive line in 2016. That lasted less than a quarter when he injured his right patellar tendon, costing him the season. An 11-month climb to return to the practice field has paid off big time — he was named a captain entering the season, playing in all 13 games and starting the last 11, including the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin.
His specialty is stopping the run, and he’s been one of the main forces behind the Buckeyes eighth-ranked run defense, which has allowed only 108.8 yards per game. He’s accounted for 16 tackles, three for a loss.
“I would say I had a good year playing my role within the defense, stopping the run to let our defensive coordinator rush the passer on third down,” Sprinkle said. “I feel like I put up some good numbers and just tried to lead out there.”
Sprinkle recorded one tackle in helping the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin 27-21 to secure their second Big Ten title during his tenure — the first also coming against Wisconsin when they won the national championship in 2014. But he was critical in helping the Buckeyes limit the Badgers, who averaged 229.2 rushing yards per game and 28 touchdowns, to just 60 yards rushing and one touchdown.
Sprinkle and the Buckeyes had been foiled by Michigan State twice — in the title game of 2013 and the regular season of 2015 that subsequently knocked the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten race — and Penn State in 2016.
“It’s huge,” Sprinkle said of returning back to the top of the conference. “We’ve had a lot of great leadership and for us to go out with a big win in the Big Ten Championship, one of the biggest conferences in the country, to be able to win that is huge. We want to go out there in the Cotton Bowl and finish strong against USC.”
He will surely be needed against the Trojans, who sport one of the nation’s most prolific offenses led by quarterback Sam Darnold, possibly the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. The redshirt sophomore has completed 63.7 of his passes for 3,787 yards and 26 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions, leading USC to the Pac-12 title.
But not to be overlooked is running back Ronald Jones II, who accounted for 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns, also adding 14 receptions for 187 yards and a TD.
“Sam Darnold is a great player, but it’s not only him, they have a great running back, too,” Sprinkle said. “First you have to stop the run and that’s something I take pride in as one of the defensive leaders. If we can stop the run early, we can start rushing the passer. We know he’s a great passer in the pocket and likes to move around outside. As a defensive front we have to put a lot of pressure on him and take some pressure off of our defensive backs.”
Redshirt sophomore Rashod Berry and sophomore Demario McCall will also suit up for the Buckeyes, but both play sparingly.
McCall, a running back who played for North Ridgeville, has played in four games with 14 carries, 111 yards and a touchdown also catching two passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
Berry, a tight end from Lorain, has played in all 12 games with six catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
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