Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
If Ohio State had finished off the final 30 seconds of the Fiesta Bowl and knocked off Texas, Kurt Coleman might be preparing for the NFL draft right now.
The Buckeyes safety "tossed and turned" over his stay-or-go decision before opting to remain in Columbus for his senior season. Earning his degree this fall played an important role, but Coleman also didn't want to go out a loser.
"I really wanted to leave as a winner," he said. "Last season kind of left it a little open-ended. I haven't won a bowl game yet, and I feel like this team can really make a big impact in the national football scene. This year can be our year to win it all."
College football enthusiasts have heard that line before and might be hesitant to board the Buckeye Bandwagon in 2009. Not only has Ohio State dropped three consecutive BCS bowl games, but it loses a sizable senior class filled with All-Big Ten performers.
The Buckeyes will be much younger this fall, particularly on offense, but they might be more explosive and hungrier. Only the fifth-year seniors have experienced a postseason win, and not many of them occupy top spots on the spring depth chart.
"It's so much motivation," Coleman said. "I see it in the weight room, I see it in everybody's daily routine. I can see it in their eyes that they really want to get out there and get better every day. That burns in our mind."
Coleman admits it feels odd not to see mainstays like James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman lining up with the first-team defense in spring ball. But he's excited about some of the new players in the mix for starting jobs, including safety Jermale Hines and linebackers Etienne Sabino and Austin Spitler.
The leadership load shifts this fall from linebacker to safety, and Coleman, a second-team All-Big Ten selection is 2008, is ready for it. Coleman and fellow returning starter Anderson Russell combined for 145 tackles, six interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season.
"It's really fun out there because him and I are always on the same page and we communicate so well," Coleman said of Russell. "It's going to be the secondary leading this team. We operate as one."
If there's a player as motivated as Coleman this spring, it's Russell. The safety had a brilliant Fiesta Bowl, recording nine tackles with a forced fumble and an interception, but people only remember his role on the game's deciding play.
Left alone in the defensive backfield as Ohio State blitzed and stayed in man coverage, Russell tried to swipe at a Colt McCoy pass intended for Quan Cosby. The ball made it through, and Cosby wriggled free of Russell and dashed to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left. The irony is that Ohio State's defense had tackled extremely well in the game, keeping Texas' short passing attack in check.
"It was tough that night and the next day, with a lot of people trying to give him some grief," Coleman said. "But I told him, 'Hey, it could have been me, it could have been anybody. Plays like that happen.' He's a tough player, he's out here in spring practice getting after it. I don't think it's really fazed him at all."
Coleman is spending the spring polishing his game, focusing mainly on his pursuit to the ball. Though he led the team with four interceptions last season, he wants to see the total increase.
"As a senior class, it's our team to lead," he said. "It's really our team and our time, and I'm willing to step up to the challenge."