‘Unfinished Business’: How Ohio State Seniors Decided to Return for 2024 

The sting.  

The pain. The agony. The defeat.  

All of the above emotions sum up what every Buckeye felt after their disappointing end to the 2023 season which saw back-to-back losses — and a third-straight to national champion Michigan — for a second consecutive year.  

Cornerback Denzel Burke was one of the Buckeyes who could’ve departed Ohio State for the NFL. He had a favorable draft grade after three seasons as a starter, but Burke said the brotherhood and culture of the team drew him back.  

“I had a first, second round grade, but at the end of the day I had no gold pants, no Big Ten (Championships), no natty,” Burke said. “So just being able to come back with my brothers, doing it for the state of Ohio and trying to finish the job this year, man. That’s the plan.”  

The opportunity “to make more money” through name, image and likeness was a factor in their decision for some Buckeyes. But Burke said there is something bigger going on that is of higher priority.  

“It was definitely difficult. But you know, I just prayed on it, relied on my faith, and I feel like this is the best decision for me (to) continue to develop into an elite corner,” Burke said. “And you know, there’s really no rush for me to go to the league. We got NIL now so, you know, we could not worry about too many things.”  

For other Buckeyes, like running back TreVeyon Henderson, the moment he knew he was returning to Ohio State for his senior season came through prayer. 

Henderson said “everything was booked” for his NFL Draft preparation following the Cotton Bowl against Missouri. Flights, workouts, you name it — Henderson was set on departing Ohio State for the NFL. 

But, after the 14-3 Cotton Bowl loss, Henderson said tight end Gee Scott Jr. and then-graduate wide receiver Xavier Johnson talked to him.  

“Gee, he finally spoke up — and Xavier — he was like, ‘Man, I’ve been wanting to tell you this, but don’t look at it from the benefits in the league and things like that — look at it from a spiritual standpoint. Where can you see yourself going closer to the Lord?'” Henderson said. “And when he said that, I’m just like, man, like, it makes so much sense how the enemy was attacking me during that process and trying to get me to go to the league because man, I would have been, shoot man, just like my dreams was right there. The league, that’s what I’ve been working for as a little kid, but, you know, that wasn’t what God was leading me to. And I’m so thankful that God rescued me in that decision and led me back here.” 

Some Buckeyes, like Burke and Henderson, had to put their NFL dreams on hold. 

Defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau said he had to “take a step back mentally” and assess his options. He said he spent a lot of time with his family and through his faith. 

NFL Tuimoloau can wait for now, he said. The chance to “get leaner, twitchy, just to continue to rehab, react quicker and not feel like I’m thinking out there” appealed enough to Tuimolaou for him to return to Ohio State for his senior year. 

“When you’re young and your dream is right there, you’re so tempted to just go and get it,” Tuimoloau said. “But once you look at it, for me, it was just, you know, the brotherhood here and just me as a person. I felt like there was a lot more that I can prove of skill-wise, and just, you know, where my body wanted to be at. I feel like there’s a lot more I can do. And just the guys we had coming back played a huge role and I’m pretty sure you guys see and heard how many of us came back. And I think that just speaks volumes to who we are as as men and what this culture does to us.”  

Head coach Ryan Day and the Buckeyes return nine starters on defense, Burke and Tuimoloau included. Ohio State enters spring practice with 40 players in their senior years of college or later.  

Defensive tackle Tyleik Williams, who was third on the team with three sacks last season, said the Buckeyes’ collective decision to return shows they’ve “got confidence in each other,” and it’s a sign that they’re bought into improving on the biggest stage.  

“We were always like one play short, one drive short,” Williams said. “And we’re just trying to take steps this year that we’re a drive ahead, basically, in those big games at the end of the season. And I think we’ve got the team to do it.”  

Watching rival Michigan win its first national championship since 1997 provided enough of a sour taste for some Buckeyes to return, defensive end Jack Sawyer said. 

Ohio State hasn’t beaten the Wolverines since 2019, and few Buckeyes remain around the program with a pair of gold pants. That’s something Sawyer and his teammates want for their own. 

“I think after kind of just thinking about it and talking to my family and talking with the guys here, I think I knew all along, like, in my heart I wanted to come back,” Sawyer said. “I think I wouldn’t have felt right leaving, losing to them three times. And you know, with the team we got coming back with the guys that decided to come back, I kind of wanted to take charge and say, ‘Hey, look, if we all come back, look what we could do.’ And I think that once I thought about that and I got some other guys on board, it was kind of a no-brainer because we’ve got the team to do it this year.”  

Sawyer said it was just as much of a personal decision to return as it was a team choice, too, and that “we’re all happy to be back.” The current group of Buckeyes are gearing up for one more go-around together next season, and Sawyer said “there’s no going back.” 

“I think for a lot of us it was definitely the team thing,” Sawyer said. “All coming back, unfinished business. It wouldn’t feel right leaving here like that without giving one more shot that we had. So I think when you talk to all of us, you’re going to find out it was a collective agreement.”  

Ohio State has a chance to return the bulk of its defense, which finished No. 2 in scoring defense among all teams in college football last season, and revitalize its offense under new coordinator Chip Kelly. 

It appears all the chips are in for the Buckeyes. And they’ve clearly set their three goals in front of them: beat Michigan, win the Big Ten and capture the national championship. 

“It’s definitely natty or bust, man. That’s our mentality,” Burke said. “No excuses, man. We got to win at all. We got to win at all, and that’s what we’ve been trying to preach that every single day. And our goal is to go out there every Saturday, hold each other accountable, play hard and make plays and turn the ball over.” 

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