COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As usual, Senior Day at Ohio Stadium Saturday marks the end of an era.
Wide receiver DeVier Posey's return to action Saturday for Ohio State marks the end of a different kind of era. At least as far as we know, the Free TattooBobby DiGeronimo Suspension Era is officially over as soon as Posey takes a snap.
What a strange, complicated trip it's been.
Posey was one of the five players implicated last December in the tattoo and memorabilia scandal that ultimately cost Jim Tressel his job and forced Terrelle Pryor off the team and to the NFL. Two of the remaining four players returned after serving their five-game suspensions, and running back Daniel "Boom" Herron then had one game added to his when it was discovered that he had received payment from DiGeronimo, now an ex and disgraced booster, for work he didn't do.
The NCAA found that Posey was the worst of the offenders in the extra work scandal, and as a repeat offender he got the greatest penalty -- an additional five games. So Saturday's game vs. Penn State means Posey's first game of 2011 is also the last game he'll ever play in Ohio Stadium.
Herron came back at Illinois last month and immediately was re-inserted into the starting lineup. Ohio State coach Luke Fickell said he'd done the right things all the way through his suspension, from playing on the scout team to helping his young teammates pick up schemes, and he thinks Posey has also held up his end of things through a long and uncertain waiting period.
"Hopefully it gives us a spark, kind of like it did with (Herron)," Fickell said. "(Posey) has been the guy that throughout this entire process, I promise you the guys respect for the way he's handled himself, the way he's practiced, what he's shown he's learned from the situation, and hopefully that gives him a spark.
"Obviously, he's a senior. He'll be playing his last game at home, and those guys, just like when Boom came back, you look around and you're in a huddle and you've got a guy that's got some confidence and has been there and done it, hopefully they can feed off of that. That's what we're looking for."
With Posey sidelined, Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner entered the season as the Buckeyes top returning receiver -- and he had all of 23 career catches. Posey has 124 career receptions, has scored 15 touchdowns over the last two seasons and has shown gamebreaking speed; he averaged 16 yards per catch last season.
Stoneburner leads a struggling Ohio State pass offense in catches with 12 on the season, and freshman Devin Smith leads in receiving yards with 241. Fickell wouldn't divulge whether he's planning to start Posey or exactly how we plans to use him, but there's little doubt he can help.
"It's kind of sad to play (our) last home game, but I'm excited to get out there," Herron said. "We've been through a lot this year. Saturday is going to be special.
"Getting DeVier back is great. He brings a lot to this team and he's definitely one of our leaders. I know he's excited, and we can't wait to have him. I expect him to make a lot of plays."
The Buckeyes have had significant in-season turnover due to suspension (three sets of NCAA-related suspensions), injury or ineffectiveness -- or some combination of the three -- at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, on the offensive line and in the secondary. That they've won six games despite that is in many ways impressive, though a 6-4 mark does not meet typical Ohio State standards.
Last week's overtime loss at Purdue essentially eliminated the Buckeyes from having the chance to play in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, meaning the final two games of the regular season are about defeating rivals, finishing strong and, in a few cases, redeeming mistakes that played a big role in this disappointing, drama-filled season.
"To me, these (seniors) have battled through a lot," Fickell said. "I've got the utmost respect for them for how they've handled the situations. The way they've been in the locker room, I couldn't ask for anything truly more in the last six months than the way they've handled themselves, the way they've accepted me, and our coaching staff, and the things we thought were important for these six months. They've been up there standing up for us all."
Saturday, 24 of those seniors get their moment in the sun -- or maybe the sleet and snow; it is November in Ohio -- before a crowd of around 105,000. Maybe the reaction they'll get will be mixed, given the circumstances. Maybe the reaction will be appreciative. Either way, they'll have four quarters to make their own memories.
"They've served their penance," Fickell said. "The guys have shown what they can do in the way that they've handled themselves.No, the fans and everybody probably doesn't know that as well. They haven't been there every day to see how they've been in that locker room, what they've meant to those guys, whether they were freshmen or seniors along with them. So hopefully they will understand that and give them their due."