Career Statistic Resume: 3,961 rushing yards, 43 TD, 6.7 yards per-carry, 58 receptions, 449 yards, 1 TD, 2015 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, 2015 AP second-team all-American, 2015 Sugar Bowl and National Champion MVP
Nicknames: Zeke, Hero in a half-shirt
Most of the time, transcendent talent is apparent right away. Michael Jordan came into the NBA and was immediately averaged 28.2 points per game. For their first 10 years in the league, one of Larry Bird or Magic Johnson always participated in the Finals. Even in a sport like football, where we think that 18 year-olds need three years to develop their body and mind in order to avoid getting crushed, a true freshman like Trevor Lawrence can take the starting job at Clemson and cruise to a national title. Rarely do the legends under-perform, even in their earliest days.
Ezekiel Elliott was different. He spent his freshman year backing up Carlos Hyde (the #3 player on this list) before getting the chance to start as a sophomore in 2014. Only, he didn’t seem like a star right away. In fact, he didn’t even seem like an adequate starter. Elliot only cracked 100 yards three times in the first seven games, punctuated by him being benched in favor of freshman Curtis Samuel against Illinois. It just didn’t seem like Elliot had it.
But that’s the other thing about the greats. Adversity doesn’t crush them, it fuels them and drives them to be better. After that rough start, Elliott would go on to rush for over 100 yards in 19 of his final 21 games with Ohio State, with the only times he failed to hit the mark being a 91-yard performance against Minnesota late in the 2014 season, and the 2015 loss to Michigan State, in which Tim Beck and Ed Warinner were most likely spies for Mark D’Antonio, and called for 15 slow-J.T. Barrett runs up the middle rather than giving the ball to Elliott.
A common theme throughout this list was how certain players made me believe in Ohio State as an elite team, a team that could win the title. The late 2000s were fun, and I still loved watching all the players from those teams, but I knew they weren’t the same as the title-winning players on the SEC contenders. I knew Ohio State was still a step away.
Zeke was the one who finally bridged the gap. He was the generational player capable of carrying a team to the title. His three-game run to end the 2014 season is the greatest and most important run a college football running back has ever had, full stop. With the starting quarterback out, and the team depending on him to carry the load, all Elliot did was churn out three 200-yard performances, 696 rushing yards total and eight touchdowns.
Wisconsin knew they were in for a long night as soon as Elliot tbusted out for an 80-yard score. Alabama, the most physically imposing program there is, was unable to prevent his two game-breaking runs. And Oregon … oh Oregon. What Elliott did to that poor Pac-12 team shouldn’t be legal. Duck defenders continually bounced off of him, as Tom Herman ruthlessly called the same fake-sweep into handoff action over and over again, all leading to a 246-yard, four touchdown performance that broke the morale of the entire Oregon team and fanbase.
The 2015 season was frustrating all-around for details that have already been covered on this blog. The lone bright spot? That would be Elliott. Seemingly working against his own coordinators, Elliott still managed to rush 1,425 yards through the first ten games of the season, build a legit Heisman campaign, absolutely wreck X-ichigan with a 214-yard beatdown and cap everything off with a four-touchdown game in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.
Elliott had ridiculous stats, ridiculous moments and was the crown jewel of the glorious Urban Meyer era of Ohio State football.
A lot of Buckeyes made me believe more in the program, but it was Elliott who was finally that superstar, the guy that could do it. How could you not love the fulfillment of a dream you had been wishing for almost your entire life?
Of course, it’s been hard to deal with Elliott’s career in the NFL. He plays for the hated Dallas Cowboys, and has endured multiple controversies and suspensions. In a few years, he might get the Todd Gurley treatment and get released for being overpaid at his position.
But who cares? It’s better to remember the good times than the bad ones. It’s better to enjoy an awesome football player than a likable but average one. My life was better because I got to watch Ezekiel Elliott.