Vashti Cunningham poses with the flag after winning the women’s high jump during the 2016 IAAF World Championships. Photo by Kirby Lee, USA TODAY SportsSupreme athleticism run in the Cunningham family.Just a month after graduating high school, 18-year-old Vashti Cunningham is set to compete in the Rio Summer Olympics after placing second in high jump at the Olympic track trials, People reports. Cunningham is the daughter of retired NFL superstar Randall Cunningham, known for his unconventional and often improvised football technique.The retired football star serves as his daughter’s coach and mentor alongside her mother Felicity de Jager, a former Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerina.According to People, Cunningham is the world-reigning indoor champion, as she finished second behind three-time Olympian and American record-holder Chaunte Lowe at the Eugene, Oregon Olympic trials on Sunday.As she heads to the Olympic Games this summer, Cunningham will be the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to represent America since 1976, Sports Illustrated reports. And if she’s lucky enough to snag a medal in Rio, she’ll be the first to do so since 1972.Her father sees no reason why she couldn’t win a gold medal at the upcoming games.“There’s no other way to train people,” Randall Cunningham told The New York Times. “You give them a vision, and they have to keep it in sight.”The child prodigy trains four times a week with a workout regimen complete with leg lifts and weight training. Cunningham avoids squats, however, to reduce the chance of knee and ankle injuries, The New York Times reports.She often compares her athletic drive and desire to win to that of her dad’s.“Me and my dad are similar athletes,” Cunningham explained to the publication. “I want to win everything I do. I’ll be thankful if I go and don’t win, but there’s always that fire in me that needs to win and wants to win.”She also described clearing the high jump as a “confrontation between me and the bar.”“…I’m going to look at it and realize I can conquer it and I can destroy it basically,” the track star said. “I go up and stare it down and realize that if my head can go over it, my body can go over it.”According to Sports Illustrated, Cunningham and Lowe, who is headed to the Olympics as well, are the United States’ best chance at winning gold in Rio for the high jump. Not a single American female athlete has snagged a gold medal in the event since Louise Ritter at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.Unsurprisingly, Cunningham isn’t the first in her family to qualify for the Olympic trials. Her brother, Randall Cunningham II, won the 2016 NCAA outdoor championship his sophomore year at Southern California and earned a spot in the U.S. Olympic trials, The New York Times reports.Cunningham is set to compete alongside big name athletes like gymnast Gabby Douglas, basketball star Kevin Durant, and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
Rachel Robinson, left, widow of Jackie Robinson, and daughter Sharon pose for a photograph with a plaque honoring Jackie on Jackie Robinson Day, Sunday, April 15, 2018, in New York, before a baseball game between the New York Mets and the Milwaukee Brewers. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)NEW YORK (AP) — Jackie Robinson’s daughter thinks black baseball players are more reluctant to speak publicly about racial issues than their NFL and NBA colleagues because they constitute a lower percentage of rosters.She spoke at Citi Field on Sunday to mark Jackie Robinson Day, the 71st anniversary of her father breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.While more than 200 NFL players protested racial inequality last season by kneeling or sitting during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell was the only baseball player to take a knee.“I don’t think they have much choice,” Sharon Robinson said. “They are in the minority and where in football and basketball you have a group and therefore you can take a group action. So players if they speak out individually, they could be the only African-American player on their team and it could be a difficult spot for them to be in.”The percentage of black players from the United States and Canada on opening-day active rosters rose to 8.4 percent, up from 7.7 last year and its highest level since at least 2012.The percentage peaked at 19 in 1986, MLB said last week, citing Mark Armour of the Society of American Baseball Research.“It’s definitely a small representation at this level,” Pittsburgh All-Star second baseman Josh Harrison said. “For younger guys coming up, if guys with 10 years or so in this league haven’t really done much, you lean on those guys for advice. If you don’t have anybody telling you one way or the other, you’ll keep your mouth shut. You don’t want to ruffle any feathers. If you don’t have anybody to help you in that regard, you’ll see a lot of guys be quiet.”“Guys feel it’s a lose-lose situation for them,” Harrison said. “It sucks because you want to have a voice, but some people feel they can’t.”Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig retired Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 throughout the major leagues in 1997, made Jackie Robinson Day an annual event in 2004 and five years later started asking all players to wear No. 42 each April 15.An educational consultant to Major League Baseball, Sharon Robinson attended the first-pitch ceremony before the Mets-Milwaukee game with her mom, 95-year-old Rachel Robinson, and brother David. On a chilly afternoon, the game time temperature was 42.Sharon Robinson said action among African-American players is more an individual undertaking.“They do it around their involvement in community themselves, and talk about why that’s important,” she said.“Part of the protest with the NFL or the NBA is how do we funnel some of these proceeds from the games, where we’re helping to bring these proceeds, and funnel them into the African-American community? So some of the baseball players do that through their own charities or their own work within communities that they’re playing (in).”Edward Robinson, a son of Jackie’s brother Mack, attended the Los Angeles Dodgers’ game against Arizona and wouldn’t address Sharon Robinson’s comments.“However, I will tell you that Jackie stood for strength and education. I’ve seen some progress,” he said. “It comes and goes. What we need to do is maintain the high levels of progress and continue to show unity.”
By Neil Paine, Chris Herring and Kyle Wagner Welcome to The Lab, FiveThirtyEight’s basketball podcast. On this week’s show (March 29, 2018), Neil, Chris and Kyle talk about the news that Kyrie Irving recently had knee surgery and won’t be back for three to six weeks. How will the surgery affect the Boston Celtics’ playoff seeding? How would losing Kyrie for the first round of the playoffs affect the team?Next, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors is expected to miss the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs because of his own knee injury. The crew breaks down what that means for the Warriors and what their chances of winning the NBA title are.Plus, a significant digit on an oddly important member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.Here are links to what the podcast discussed this week:Keep an eye on FiveThirtyEight’s 2017-18 NBA predictions, updated after every game.The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor took a look at how Irving’s injury may affect the Celtics.Chris wrote about how the Warriors should adjust their offense without Curry.Significant Digit: .700, the winning percentage of the Cavaliers when Jose Calderon is in the starting line-up. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Embed Code
In 1964, Ron Hunt was a young second baseman just starting to make his bones in the big leagues. He played for the Mets, a terrible team still years away from transforming into Amazin’ glory. On May 9 of that year, they were playing the mighty Cardinals, a loaded team that would go on to win the World Series. The man on the mound that day was Bob Gibson, one of the best and most terrifying fireballers in baseball history.Gibson had staked the Cards to a big lead, and he now needed just two more outs to bag a complete-game win. Hunt was due up next, and he knew all about Gibson’s blazing fastball, his tendency to come inside with it, and his neverending quest to intimidate batters into submission.“I started messing with my shoelaces,” said Hunt 51 years later, speaking in short, hard-edged bursts from his farm in Wentzville, Missouri.At the time, he figured that fiddling with his laces and stalling for time would do one of two things: Break Gibson’s concentration, piss the big right-hander off, or both. A warning rang out from the dugout: “ ‘Gibson is gonna drill you!’ Sure enough, he hits me.”Shaking off the impact of the pitch, Hunt spotted the ball coming to rest near his feet. He picked it up, turned toward Gibson … and flipped it back to him. Trotting down to first base, Hunt was greeted by first baseman Bill White, who wanted to know if Hunt was OK after getting drilled by the one fastball that caused more nightmares than any other of his generation.“Yeah, I’m all right,” Hunt replied indignantly. “Now tell that fucker to go warm up!” 5Jason Kendall199831 2Don Baylor198635 1Ron Hunt197150 6Steve Evans191031 Flipping balls back to pitchers wasn’t something Hunt reserved for titans of the game like Gibson. He did it nearly every time after getting plunked by a pitch. And nobody in baseball’s modern era has been hit more times in one season than Hunt. He retired in 1974 with 243 hit-by-pitches (HBPs)1Don Baylor broke that post-Dead Ball Era record in 1987, and Craig Biggio subsequently passed Baylor in 2005. Hughie Jennings remains the all-time leader with 287, but he played most of his career in the 19th century., but his record-breaking season came when he was playing for the Montreal Expos in 1971. That year, he got plunked 50 times, still the highest total for anyone after 1900.2Jennings did get hit 51 times in 1896. But when you consider that spitballs were legal (and incredibly hard to control) in the 19th century (thus causing more wayward balls to hit batters), and that the overall level of play in those days was much more uneven due to a lack of talent, Hunt’s total of 50 is more impressive.It’s one thing to be a record-holder. It’s quite another to absolutely obliterate the field in one statistical category. Check out how far ahead of the pack Hunt’s 50 HBPs look compared to all other post-1900 totals. PLAYERYEARHBP 3Craig Biggio199734 7Craig Wilson200430 9Craig Biggio200128 8Fernando Vina200028 4Jason Kendall199731 That’s a 43 percent spread between Hunt’s 50 and Baylor’s runner-up effort. Pick your most unbreakable record, and Hunt’s dominance dwarfs it. Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak? Pete Rose came closer to Joe D at 44 than Baylor did to Hunt.3We’re not counting Willie Keeler’s 45-game hitting streak, from 1896 to 1897, to stay consistent on post-1900 numbers. Cy Young’s 511 wins? Walter Johnson’s 417 Ws came closer. Barry Bonds’s 73 homers in 2001? Nope. Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs in 1930? Nope. You could argue that in modern baseball history, no player ever crushed all others in any one facet of the game the way Hunt did with his plunk-fest in 1971.When we assemble every player since 1900 who’s ever logged 502 or more plate appearances in a season,4The minimum required to qualify for a batting title. Hunt’s lonely spot way over on the right side of that chart is 13 standard deviations above average for hit-by-pitches in a season. If you’re not a math expert, think about that number this way: There’s ostensibly nothing in our everyday lives that could ever be anywhere close to 13 standard deviations above the norm — not a man who’s 8 feet tall, or 700 pounds, or blessed with a 200 IQ.When you’re 13 standard deviations ahead of any other season, it suggests somebody didn’t just get lucky — he got really, really good.“His hitting style was that he crowded the plate,” said Bill Stoneman, Hunt’s teammate for three seasons in Montreal, including his record-breaking campaign. “Back when we played, pitchers pitched inside a little more than they do now. When that pitch came inside, he didn’t budge. He just let the thing hit him.”“First I would blouse the uniform — this big, wool uniform, I would make sure it was nice and loose,” Hunt said. “Then I’d choke way up on the bat, and stand right on top of the plate. That way, I could still reach the outside pitch. That was the Gil Hodges philosophy on hitting: The two inches on the outside corner were the pitcher’s, the rest was his. I thought, ‘If I can take away those two inches, and he’s not perfect, I can put the ball in play and get some hits. And if he comes inside, I can get on base that way, too.’ ”This, to Hunt, was gamesmanship, a way for a power-deficient hitter to gain an edge on the pitcher both physically and mentally. It was also, if we’re applying the letter of baseball law, illegal. A right-handed batter, Hunt would set up with his left arm hanging over the plate. Major League Baseball’s Rule 6.08(b) stipulates that the batter must make an “attempt to avoid being touched by the ball” to be awarded first base after getting hit by a pitch. Hunt made no such attempt.“The ball would be headed toward his elbow or his ribcage,” said Dave Van Horne, who called Expos games on TV and radio for the first 32 years of the franchise’s existence. “He would turn his back away from the pitcher and deflect the ball with that spin move, so that he avoided those direct hits. To the average person, it would look like he was trying to get out of the way of the pitch, when, in fact, he just wanted to stand in there and take it.”“Did the umpires know what he was doing?” Van Horne asked rhetorically. “Sure. But I don’t think they wanted to get into many arguments with him!”At 6 feet tall, 186 pounds, Hunt wasn’t the biggest guy, even if he was strong for his size. But it was his fearlessness, as well as his quick and nasty temper, that earned him respect within the game. No other player, then or now, had the courage to flip baseballs back to pitchers after getting hit. Most players don’t want to piss off the guy who could hold your life in his hands, and really don’t want to do it when that guy is Bob Gibson.Never was Hunt’s win-at-all costs approach better on display than in 1971. His HBP pace started relatively slowly that season, with Hunt getting hit seven times in his first 33 games. Then on May 26, he put on a clinic, reaching base four times in five trips to the plate, via a walk, a trademark slap single, and two plunks in an 11-1 over the Braves. On June 6, Padres lefty Dave Roberts fired a nine-hit shutout against the Expos … and Hunt still found a way to get hit twice. On June 25, he absorbed three blows in a single day, with one HBP in the first game of a doubleheader, and two more in the nightcap; that first one came against Nolan Ryan, whose fastball could bore a hole into Fort Knox. Finally, on Aug. 7, Hunt led off the game against Reds right-hander Jim McGlothlin … and got nailed for the 32nd time that season, breaking the 20th-century record held by long-ago Cardinals outfielder Bobby Evans.But he still had 18 bruises and one major brawl to go. Ten days later, Hunt led off the top of the third against Padres righty Steve Arlin. He took a fastball in the ribs, winced, then watched the ball come to a dead stop right next to him. Keeping with tradition, Hunt picked the ball up and gently tossed it back to Arlin. His next at-bat came in the fifth, with a runner on first and nobody out. Again Arlin tried to come inside with a fastball. Again he whacked Hunt with the pitch, this time on the arm. The ball bounded a few feet up the first-base line. Hunt walked toward it, ready to scoop the ball up and lob it back. Padres catcher Bob Barton, widely regarded as a nice guy, had had enough of Hunt’s act. Barton scurried to the ball, and grabbed it before Hunt could get it. Hunt turned toward Barton, ripped his mask off with two hands, and punched him right in the jaw. A fight ensued, the benches emptied, and in the end Hunt was the only player ejected. He returned to the lineup the next day and got drilled by Padres lefty Fred Norman.Hunt took all of that beating with pride. He was keenly aware of his limited talent and reveled in beating his opponents with guile, and a mean streak.All that abuse took its toll over the years. Now 73 years old, Hunt can reel off his 15 surgeries, 12 of them from baseball: one on the left shoulder, four on the right, both knees, a steel rod in his back, you name it. And none of that counts the injuries he’d shake off to play the next day.5Hunt’s manager in Montreal, the equally scrappy Gene Mauch, knew that his second baseman frequently played hurt, so he’d occasionally lead off with Hunt on the road, then pull him in for a pinch-runner if he reached base to start the game. Don Drysdale once threw a fastball so hard, it left a baseball-shaped imprint on Hunt’s shoulder blade for weeks.Hunt eventually gave in, donning a protective rubber sleeve around his ribs that was so tight, it was painful to watch him pull it on. That one provision aside, Hunt’s body was fair game, with none of the modern armor that helped next-generation HBP leaders like Biggio trot to first base again and again.Jacques Doucet, a sportswriter for La Presse in Montreal for the Expos’ first three seasons and the French-language TV voice of the team for their final 33 years, was one of Hunt’s closest friends. They’d go on fishing trips together, with Hunt airing his grievances against half the league and Doucet sitting and listening. They remain close to this day, with Hunt offering little nuggets of baseball wisdom that never fail to make Doucet smile.“Ronnie always used to say one thing to me in jest,” Doucet said. “ ‘A lot of people give their body to science. I gave mine to baseball.’ ”
This may sound odd, but I’m starting to get bored with Buckeye football. I know that there are still big games on the schedule, especially the Michigan game. But after getting beat by Purdue, playing a fluky game against Wisconsin and predictably blowing out New Mexico State, the whole thing is just starting to feel tired. I just haven’t been able to get behind this team. I still root for them, but watching the Buckeyes this year just isn’t the same.Luckily there’s another team starting their season, and it is one that I think is going to be a lot more entertaining. The men’s basketball team doesn’t have problems with unproven freshman or sophomores. Instead they have returning juniors Evan Turner, Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale who are genuine, battle-hardened veterans of a couple long seasons. Add to that a return of National Championship-run team member David Lighty, super sophomore William Buford, and hard-working junior college transfers Jeremie Simmons and P.J. Hill. There are other guys that casual fans won’t recognize from their playing time, (including another Greek seven-footer, Zisis Sarikopoulos) but the starters have seen it all in the Big Ten, and are ready for another title.I even like the basketball coach more. Thad Matta had back surgery a little bit ago, but it hasn’t slowed him down at all. He looks like he runs as much as the players on some nights. Where football fans see a stuffed sweater vest standing on the sidelines whispering into a headset about the next punt, basketball fans see a guy in a suit yelling, screaming, sweating, and cheering his team to victory with every other fan. You can tell that he lives for basketball; he was born in a town called “Hoopeston.” I can’t see gum flying out of Tressel’s mouth, much less him picking it up and putting it back in after it hits the ground.From my seats in C Deck, I can just barely make out some of the numbers on the field as I try to remember what my fingers felt like. From my seats in Value City Arena, I can high five the players after they go on a 12-0 run to finish out the half. The chants are louder and clearer, the game is faster and the team is better. What better cure for the gridiron doldrums? Not to mention that when basketball season ends, there’s usually a 65-team tournament to savor. By contrast, football enjoys a month and a half of waiting before a bowl game that won’t matter unless some journalists and computers say it does. I won’t be tuning out the rest of the football games, but I am relieved that the better fan experience finally starts their season next week. Go Bucks!
Once you are recognized as the best, it becomes that much harder to stay there.Sometimes there are external factors, like the target that you wear on your back once the accolades start coming your way.But far more often, the struggle to stay on top is internal.There are many terms for this phenomenon: resting on your laurels, self-satisfaction or just plain laziness.Ohio State women’s basketball player Jantel Lavender will never fall into that trap.Lavender has been unanimously selected as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, and the Buckeyes she leads have been picked to finish first in the Big Ten by both the media and coaches poll.Do such lofty expectations make her soft?“I think it’s motivation to continue to be at the level of a top team,” Lavender said.Saying it is motivating and actually displaying motivation are two very different things.When someone has to go to class, hit the weight room and then go to practice and impress a task-master like coach Jim Foster, words won’t cut it. Only action will.“If it means coming in and shooting 500 [3-pointers] a day or running extremely hard, whatever it takes is what I’ll do,” Lavender said.Statistics like the ones Lavender has racked up can be telling.In her freshman campaign, she averaged 17.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Those tallies increased to 20.8 and 10.7 respectively in her sophomore season.Is it an upward trend or has she reached the pinnacle?“I just come in every day with the attitude that I’m getting better every single day,” Lavender said. “There’s not a plateau for me. You can always add to your game.”Foster isn’t ready to call his star player a finished product just yet.“She needs to continue to work on her face-up game, shoot the [3-pointer] with a little more consistency and to continue to improve her left [hand],” Foster said.With goals, expectations and four new freshmen faces in the lineup, it is extremely important that team leaders set the tone.“If you have to motivate your best players to play hard every day, you’re stuck in the mud,” Foster said.“When your best players are your hardest workers, then you’re on the autobahn.”Lavender is a hard worker, and a self-avowed basketball junkie. A lot of players will say they model their game after a certain star player.Usually, it is a name that even the most casual of fans have heard of, such as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.But Lavender looks for ways to improve her game in the most unlikely of places.“I love the game so much and constantly want to learn something new,” she said. “I’m a sponge. It can be a kid on the playground I’m watching that does something out of the ordinary.”Last year’s run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament and subsequent ouster has fueled the fire for the team to surpass the last two seasons’ accomplishments. That can only mean one thing: a national title.Will Lavender have what it takes to lead this year’s Buckeyes to another Big Ten title and beyond? She sounds ready.“There are no excuses,” she said of this season. “I know what needs to be done.”
Heading into the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association Tournament as the top seed, the Ohio State men’s volleyball team could easily grow complacent.The No. 10 Buckeyes have won 10 consecutive matches, including a 3-0 win against tonight’s opponent, No. 13 Ball State. “We ended up beating three rivals to end the season,” said middle hitter Kevin Heine, “so the team is feeling pretty confident.” By winning the regular-season conference title for the fourth consecutive season, OSU earned a first-round bye in the quarterfinals and will host the semifinal match. Many players agreed that this was a big advantage, as they will get to play in front of their home crowd and won’t have to travel.The Buckeyes may also have the most talent in the conference. Redshirt junior Steven Kehoe was named the MIVA Player of the Year. He and three other Buckeyes are also members of the all-conference team, tied for the most from one school. Additionally, coach Pete Hanson was named the MIVA Co-Coach of the Year.While all the signs point to success in the tournament, the team knows it can’t take anything for granted.“We have a pretty healthy respect for our opponents,” Kehoe said. From here on out, any mistakes could result in the end of the season. “We know that every game is a must win,” Heine said. In order to advance to the NCAA championship in May, the Buckeyes basically must win the MIVA tournament. The NCAA championship features the three conference winners and one at-large bid, but should they lose, the Buckeyes likely would not receive the at-large bid. The Buckeyes did not let the extra time off due to the bye go to waste. “We had a really good focus at practice,” Heine said. The team spent last week working on its own skills and going back to the basics, sophomore Shawn Sangrey said.This week, practices shifted focus to preparing specifically for their next opponent Ball State, redshirt junior John Klanac said. The Buckeyes also understand that the entire team needs to play well for it to succeed. “Everyone understood their roles on the team,” Kehoe said. Especially at the end of the long season, the rest of the team is there to pick each other up when someone isn’t playing to their potential, Klanac said. “We don’t let anyone slack off,” Sangrey said. The Buckeyes face Ball State tonight at 7 p.m. in St. John Arena.
Ohio State redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) hands the ball off to redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber (25) in the third quarter against Rutgers on Sep. 30. Ohio State won 56-0. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorFor the first time all season, Ohio State was able to effectively use both redshirt sophomore running back Mike Weber and freshman running back J.K. Dobbins in the same game for multiple drives in Saturday’s 56-0 win over Rutgers.Moving forward, head coach Urban Meyer said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference he would like to use both of them in the backfield at the same time.“They’re that quality of players when you put your best 11 up on the board, those two names surface,” Meyer said. “Our obligation is to play the best players and you know, last week we really didn’t get the repetition we wanted with either one of them.”Weber finished the game with 44 rushing yards on 10 carries and three rushing touchdowns, while Dobbins had only six carries, but totaled 53 yards on the ground. The team will not always be able to use both running backs at once. When Meyer is forced to choose one over the other, he said the indicator of who is performing the best would be to see what kind of energy level the two backs have and who is displaying the best ball security.“That’s one position that’s fairly easy to find out a guy’s in a rhythm. Just the demeanor, the way [the running back] handles himself and obviously the production,” he said. “You can tell, like, it’s not much different than if the fan when you’re watching the game and you can feel every time that guy touches the ball, or even you just feel them on the field.”Here are some additional notes from the teleconference:On Dante Booker’s improvement: “I do believe he struggled a little bit. Wasn’t so much from the injury, just getting back in the flow of things. The injury was fine, it’s just when you miss that much time and Book is one of those guys that we’ve never had to worry about him going hard or worry about him. He’s a pleaser, he wants to do everything right and sometimes you paralyze yourself because you over-analyze everything instead of just playing four to six [seconds], a to b.”On Booker being named defensive player of the week: “Oh everybody loves him, including myself and the players respect him because they know how hard he works and how much Ohio State football means to him, so it was a big cheer for him and you know, just the way you want it.”On Dwayne Haskins: “He went to a smaller, very good high school, but a smaller high school. And I think the competition was not like it was [here]. Sort of took him some time to adjust to the speed and aggressiveness, et cetera. He’s growing up, he’s still growing as a player, a quarterback. Game experience is priceless for a guy like that and he’s really handled it very well.”On Maryland quarterback Max Bortenschlager against Minnesota: “I think he was extremely efficient with the quick passing game, getting the ball out and then obviously he had some big runs. You know Minnesota going into that was one of the top defenses in America and I thought he did excellent. But he was also, now he’s established himself as a starter and you see that, with a talented guy, you see that development work. Our … defense staff has got a lot of respect for him.”On impressive Maryland players: “I think the skillset of the offensive players, the six-out and their returner [D.J. Moore], he’s obviously very involved in the kicking game. So the skill positions on the receiver and the running back is very patient and great acceleration. And on defense, just another year in the system of coach [D.J.] Durkin and the understanding of that 3-4 style defense they play and the activity of the defensive front. That’s what catches my eye.”
Ohio State redshirt junior midfielder Brady Blackwell (4) protects the ball from a Falcon during the Ohio State-BGSU game on Sep. 22. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorEighteen minutes into the first period of the Ohio State men’s soccer game on Sept. 26 against Detroit Mercy, redshirt junior midfielder Brady Blackwell flicked in a shot four yards out from the net and scored his first career goal as a Buckeye.Blackwell’s collegiate soccer story doesn’t begin in Columbus, Ohio, however, and it wasn’t always easy. He spent two seasons playing soccer at San Diego State University before he made the decision to transfer 2,263 miles back home and attend Ohio State.Growing up in Dublin, Ohio, 10 minutes away from Ohio State’s campus, it was always a dream for Blackwell to don a scarlet and gray jersey and play soccer for the Buckeyes.“When the opportunity presented itself to come home, I couldn’t pass it up,” Blackwell said.A little over a year ago, Blackwell was working hard during the preseason prior to his junior year at a new school with a new team.That preparation came to a halt when he was injured. It forced him to take a medical redshirt and stand on the sidelines while he watched his teammates play the 2016 season without him.“It was just tough having to watch my teammates work and not being able to help out,” Blackwell said. “I tried to encourage them and do all I could, but there’s nothing like competing and practicing with your teammates.”Blackwell said it was frustrating not being on the field with his team, but ultimately, he took his injury as a learning experience.“I was very upset I couldn’t help contribute in my first season here at OSU,” Blackwell said. “But that’s part of the sport, and I think the injury helped me learn some important lessons.”Fast forward to the 2017 season and Blackwell is healed from his injury and trying to make every second of this year count.So far this season, Blackwell has played in 13 games for Ohio State, started 11 matches and added one goal to his list of accomplishments.Being injured can be detrimental to a player’s future career and success, but Blackwell said being injured made him appreciate the game even more and motivated him to work harder.“It’s important to play and train hard everyday, because you have no idea when something like an injury might happen,” Blackwell said. “Overall, it just made me respect the opportunity I’ve been given.”Blackwell’s return to play has been a huge boost to the Buckeyes success in the season so far, his teammates said. In the midfield, Blackwell’s ability to dictate the flow and tempo of the game has made a large impact on Ohio State’s game, said senior defender Niall Logue.“Last year we knew he was going to be a big player for us,” Logue said. “In the preseason he got the news that he was going to have to medical redshirt, and that was a huge blow for us, especially in the midfield.”For the Buckeyes, having a roster filled with 15 freshmen requires plenty of leadership from the few upperclassmen. Blackwell delivers that much-needed command both on and off the field, Logue said.“Having him back this year is a big influence in a leadership way as well,” Logue said. “He’s a big personality in the locker room.”After experiencing different trials and tribulations throughout his collegiate soccer career, Blackwell brings a lot of wisdom to the team. “I’ve played at two different universities and have gained experience along the way. My injury humbled me and allowed me to take a step back and observe the opportunity we have as Ohio State athletes,” Blackwell said. “I hope that I can encourage younger players to take nothing for granted, and to train and play everyday like it’s your last.”