WASHINGTON, D.C. – There was a moment of discovery for Ohio State’s football team when it went to the White House on Monday to be honored by President Barack Obama.
The Buckeyes discovered that even when you’re some of the biggest stars in college football you can become a little star-struck, too.
Obama shook hands with every one of OSU’s players, from the All-Americans to the walk-ons during a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House.
And when they went to speak as he grasped their hands, many of them struggled to find a clever response.
“We were all trying to think of something profound to say when he came up and shook our hands and we all were like, ‘Uh-uh-uh. Hi, Mr. President,’ ” wide receiver Evan Spencer said.
Ohio State spent 3 ½ hours at the White House, capped by a 10-minute ceremony in the East Room.
Obama mixed humor with some serious thoughts when he talked about the Buckeyes, the first team to win a national championship under the College Football Playoff format.
He joked that OSU could thank him because he advocated a playoff system as far back as 2008. “You’re welcome for that,” he said.
He made the always-popular reference to Michigan as “a certain team up north.”
When he talked about Joey Bosa’s signature sack celebration move, a shrug, Bosa gave him a shrug from the back row of the risers where OSU’s players were standing.
He said Ezekiel Elliott wanted him to get the NCAA to reverse its policy against cropped jerseys. And he said, “When you get 100,000 fans to show up to a practice, I think it’s fair to say your fans are a little crazy.”
On the serious side, Obama said, “In all seriousness, this was a team of true character, of true resilience.” He talked about the adversity OSU had to overcome to win the national championship.
“Not only did they make Ohio proud on the field, they made it proud off the field. The love between this team and its community is unreal,” he said.
Tight end Jeff Heuerman said OSU’s players found the whole White House experience a little unreal.
“It’s not every day you get to see a President of the Unites States, much less shake his hand and listen to him talk about you and your teammates,” Heuerman said.
The last time an Ohio State football team made a trip to the White House was in early 2003, when the 2002 national champions were invited. Coach Urban Meyer was making his third trip, though, adding this one to trips with Florida after it won national titles in 2006 and 2008.
“That was the third time I’ve been a part of it and I can’t remember a time it was as relaxed, as open, as genuine as it was today,” Meyer said.
“I’m glad he’s a sports fan. He made the point several times, but it’s true, he jumped right into the middle of the college football playoff conversation and it obviously greatly benefitted us,” he said.
Like the national championship, Monday’s trip was something Ohio State’s players will remember for a long time.
“You have to soak in everything. The entire experience has been amazing. It’s not something everyone gets to do,” Spencer said.
Meyer said those handshakes with the president would be a lasting memory. “It’s something for them to tell their children’s children,” he said.