Defensive end Sam Hubbard participated in the Senior Tackle tradition for the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thanksgiving, two days before the regular-season finale at Michigan.
Seniors ran over a tackling dummy — or, in the case of linebacker Chris Worley, punched it like a boxer — and then hugged coach Urban Meyer. The players also spoke in front of their teammates about their experiences with the Buckeyes.
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Most of the players have no more eligibility after this season. That’s not the case with Hubbard, a redshirt junior who said he hasn’t made a decision about whether to return or go to the NFL.
“I’m not sure what I’m doing next year,” Hubbard said. “I’m just focused on winning the Big Ten championship. It was just an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up if I do make that decision.”
Meyer said he didn’t want to start a precedent of letting underclassmen participate in Senior Tackle but said it was Hubbard’s call.
Players leave Ohio State early every year. Some leave eligibility on the table, though they have graduated. Hubbard redshirted in 2014 and will graduate this December.
“I’ve got a lot of exams after we win (the Big Ten),” Hubbard said. “I’ve got a lot on my plate.”
The Buckeyes know they will lose these players, all of whom are fifth-year seniors, true seniors or graduates: Worley; left tackle Jamarco Jones; center Billy Price; tight end Marcus Baugh; quarterback J.T. Barrett; defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis, Dre’mont Jones, Jalyn Holmes and Michael Hill; and safety Damon Webb.
In addition to Hubbard, there are other redshirt juniors, true juniors or redshirt sophomores who could leave, such as hybrid back Parris Campbell, running back Mike Weber, linebacker Jerome Baker and cornerback Denzel Ward.
A CBSSports.com mock draft projected Ward as a first-round pick and the No. 23 prospect overall. It rated Billy Price 64th in the draft class. WalterFootball.com projects Hubbard as an early-round pick.
If the Cincinnati Moeller graduate Hubbard does decide to stay for his final season, it would be a major boost for the Buckeyes. He ranks second on the team with 10 tackles for a loss. He has appeared in every game the past three seasons.
Ohio State’s line will be fine no matter what next season with the return of Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Nick Bosa, a sophomore, but Hubbard would make sure the unit remains a strength of the team.
“He’s just an energizer,” Meyer said. “Once again, it’s a credit to his family. He knows one speed, and that’s you turn him on and he goes. He’s one of my all-time favorite players.”