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Buckeyes' 'heart and soul'

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- His tireless work ethic was well known, leading to jokes that maybe the guy simply lived in the practice facility.

There was never any question about his intensity, a fixture in both grueling workouts and the relentless way quarterbacks were chased down and big plays were consistently delivered.

Then there was the single-minded focus, an approach that seemingly made anything that wasn't helping build a better football player appear to be a major nuisance -- with any requests to stop and talk about his accomplishments, injury concerns or emotions perhaps at the top of that list.

Even in the sanctity of the Ohio State locker room, where those traits helped establish John Simon as the poster boy for leading by example, there were rarely any glimpses at what really made the senior tick. But all at once, after gutting through an injury (of which hardly anybody was aware) to help lead the Buckeyes to a win over California on Sept. 15, the floodgates opened in an emotional, tear-soaked speech that showed a side of the defensive lineman that even longtime teammates had never seen.

"That's just kind of his thing," senior Zach Boren said. "Even around the locker room or even on the field, he doesn't show much personality. He just leads by example and just works so hard, so after the Cal game and when he said what he said, crying and stuff like that, I've never really seen that -- nobody has.

"That struck home so hard for a lot of us. It really opened up our eyes because John never really shows emotion."

In typical Simon fashion, as soon as that moment passed he went right back to business and has steadfastly kept those feelings private, between himself and the Buckeyes.

But the gist of his message about doing everything humanly possible to fight for his teammates, for his program and for victories, regardless of the circumstances, has clearly stuck with the Ohio State players. At the same time it offered another reminder of how deserving Simon was of becoming just the eighth two-time captain in Ohio State's storied history.

Given the unique situation he and the rest of the seniors faced, thanks to the NCAA sanctions that would have allowed them to leave without punishment to compete elsewhere for a championship, Simon's sermon only galvanized the Buckeyes more. And in hindsight, it might have served as a turning point in a season that now could wind up being perfect with a win Saturday over rival Michigan.

"This is a team sport," Simon said. "We love our teammates, and we would never even consider leaving those guys. I can speak for myself personally: When I committed to be a Buckeye, I'm a Buckeye through and through.

"I was going to play my four years and be here as long as I can."

That time is winding down now, and Simon will leave behind a legacy of far more than leadership.

With four sacks last weekend against Wisconsin, Simon took over the Big Ten lead this season and moved to No. 7 in Ohio State history in that category. Those tackles for a loss also gave Simon 43 for his career, the seventh-highest total for the Buckeyes -- and just 2.5 takedowns shy of moving into the top five with one game to play.

Of course, one more victory would also help cement his legendary status for the invaluable role he played for an undefeated team. Particularly among his teammates and the coaches, though, that reputation is already secure.

"You hear from other people, but I like to develop my own opinion," first-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "You meet him, you meet his family, you meet his girlfriend. My son had a baseball game up [around Simon's hometown of Youngstown, Ohio] over the summer and he came and watched with his girlfriend, sat with me for a bunch of hours watching baseball. It just tells you what he's all about. The best -- he's the best.

"He's the heart and soul of our program."

Simon might not show off his own heart and soul all that much. But the Buckeyes caught a glimpse of what's inside two months ago, and they've followed the leader to perfection ever since.