COLUMBUS — When five of Ohio State’s incoming transfers met the media for the first time this week, there was no mistaking the word of the day.
Will Howard, Seth McLaughlin, Quinshon Judkins, Caleb Downs and Will Kacmarek all have their own motivations for choosing the Buckeyes after entering the transfer portal, but they all mentioned winning more than once.
“This is the place that you want to go to, a place where everyone’s passionate and everyone wants to win,” said Judkins, a running back from Mississippi. “And it’s a great culture and everyone is focused and dialed in to do something that’s bigger than themselves. Why wouldn’t you want to go to a place like that?”
The desire to win superseded any concerns about how many carries he will get when he joins a backfield that also includes All-Big Ten senior-to-be TreVeyon Henderson.
“Doing what I can to come and contribute to the team is all,” said Judkins, who was a first-team All-SEC selection in both of his seasons in Oxford. “Just do what I can to help contribute to winning a national championship, playing my part.”
Howard, a fifth-year senior quarterback from Kansas State, hopes to improve his NFL Draft stock, but he could have done that at many different schools.
He described being able to while getting a successful team back into the College Football Playoff as “sugar on the cake.”
“The biggest thing was I felt like I could come here and compete for a national championship,” said Howard, who quarterbacked KSU to the Big 12 title two years ago and made the all-conference second team last fall. “That above anything else was one of the most important things. I just felt like I had more I wanted to accomplish in college and I wasn’t through yet. And that was I think what really drew me here.”
His decision also appealed to McLaughlin, a center who won an SEC championship at Alabama last season but suffered an overtime loss to Michigan in the Rose Bowl, a CFP semifinal.
“I think he’s a very impressive guy,” McLaughlin said. “He’s very intelligent. He’s smart. He’s played in a lot of games. He’s a Big 12 champion. He’s won championship games. So going and playing with a quarterback that knows how to win games was a super big thing to me because that’s my main goal is to win football games in my fifth year.”
Downs went through the same ups and downs as McLaughlin last year as a freshman starter on the Crimson Tide defense.
He started looking for somewhere else to play when legendary coach Nick Saban announced his retirement in mid-January, but Downs said he did not want to compromise one thing.
“The same expectations that I’ve had my whole life, the same expectations that we had at ‘Bama: To win games and dominate every game and go win a championship,” Downs said.
He was a do-it-all safety at Alabama, where he also returned punts.
Whether or not the latter continues at Ohio State remains to be seen, but Downs said he wasn’t worried about it just as Judkins dismissed questions about how many carries he might get this fall.
The others said they would embrace a variety of roles for the good of the team, too.
For McLaughlin, that could mean playing guard, while Kacmarek might be a blocker first at Ohio State despite catching more than 40 passes at Ohio University the past two seasons.
Howard, who described himself as a pocket passer, could be called upon to run the ball more than Ohio State quarterbacks have the past few seasons.
“When we need to run the quarterback, I’m gonna run the ball,” Howard said. “And I mean, if we need to run the quarterback 16 times game, I’ll do it. I’m one of those people that I don’t care. I just want to freaking go win.”
The newcomers also said they were encouraged by the decisions of more than a handful of juniors to put off the NFL for one more year after the team fell short of its major goals in each of their first three seasons in Columbus.
“It’s special,” Howard said. “When I came in and met these dudes that are projected first round draft picks coming back, they could have their heads as big as this room, but they all are just here to win.
“They’re here because they love the Buckeyes, and it’s really a cool thing to be around that.”
Of course, talking openly about winning being the No. 1 motivation can bring added pressure, but Judkins said he wasn’t worried about that.
“You know, I embrace it well,” he said. “That’s what everyone here works hard for. That is the end goal.
“It’s not to get a certain amount of wins. That’s the goal. That’s what everyone is here for, to win the national championship. So I take it seriously. Everyone here has bought in.”