COLUMBUS, Ohio – After being lauded during fall camp, Ohio State defensive tackle Tracy Sprinkle was being counted on by Urban Meyer, Larry Johnson Sr and his teammates when the Buckeyes took the field in their 2016 season opener. After four years, the 6-foot-3, 293-pound Sprinkle was finally where he wanted to be, lined up as a starter for one of the country’s best teams and most-talented position groups.
Just 14 plays into the season, Sprinkle’s year was over. A tendon is his right knee ruptured. It could have taken his career with it.
“I have never seen a guy work so hard in rehab to get back to where he is right now,” Johnson, in his sixth year as the Ohio State defensive line coach, said Monday. “He shouldn’t be playing, but he worked so hard to get here.”
That path to “here” isn’t just full of scar tissue from surgery last year. Sprinkle found himself in the news for all the wrong reasons in the summer of 2014, running into a legal situation that found him suspended and in Meyer’s doghouse. To get back in the coach’s good graces, and to be named a team captain on Monday night, shows the depth of the work he’s done on and off the field.
“That’s how much he means to this team,” Meyer said during his Monday press conference. “The amount of respect he has earned over the last couple years. You know, he worked so hard. You see an injury, that’s awful. It’s just great to have him back.
“Plus he’s a very good player,” Meyer added with a grin.
In 2016, Sprinkle was being counted on to help solidify a young and unproven defensive line. His injury prevented him from doing that on the field, but it didn’t stop him from helping his team get better.
“His presence alone, last year, he (brought) that leadership when he wasn’t even playing,” senior DE Jalyn Holmes said. “He just brings heart. When you’re feeling down at practice, he’s the one that picks everybody up. He’s the one that makes sure you’re accountable. He’s just a great friend, and that carries onto the field. What he did for us, I can’t express with words. I’m just glad he’s on my side.”
Sometimes, when you’ve been through the things Sprinkle has been through, those experiences can be the most valuable part of you. The Elyria, Ohio, native has not let the chance to impact others get by him.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be back out here with my teammates. I went through a lot last year, being out and watching them thrive and get better.
“I’ve had a very good impact on the younger guys – and the older guys – so I feel like that role (as a leader) is just great. To be considered a leader of the team now, that’s a humbling experience. My career has been so unique.
“When I first came [to Ohio State], I was struggling. [I] started off on the scout team, so to some guys that’s on the scout team, I would let them know that there’s still hope, that you can still play. Sometimes it’s hard coming out of high school being that top guy, so me just helping guys out from the things that I’ve been through and letting them know that there’s still hope, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Sprinkle will enter the year as the presumptive starter at nose tackle and once again be counted on as a leader among those in his unit. After all, he’s a captain now. His story matters.
That moment when you call your family to say you've been selected captain of The Ohio State Buckeyes. ❤️️
— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) August 21, 2017
“When he’s all said and done with football, he’s got a story to tell,” Johnson said of Sprinkle.”Look where he’s at right now.
“He’s a great leader and the kids really respect him. He’s got a great testimony. When you go through something he’s been through, and to come back from it, it really sets the bar for young players to follow. That’s the thing with Tracy, and he’s got something to prove, because he wants to be on the field and play.”
On the field, Sprinkle could be in for a special season. Ohio State’s line depth, which he helped cultivate while injured last season, should keep him fresh. That will keep him ready to make the impact he was being counted on to make in 2016. He’s waited too long for the chance to let it get by him now.
“All the things that I’ve been through off the field and on the field, and by the grace of God, I’m here now,” Sprinkle said. “It just feels very good to be back. When it was taken away from me last year, it was kind of a challenge, but I made sure my faith was stronger with each challenge I faced.
“It’s just great to be back out here. I feel great.”
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