COLUMBUS — It was the payoff for a lot of patience and a lot of hard work when Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard got the first start of his college career on Saturday when OSU beat Minnesota 30-14.
Hillard, the only 5-star recruit in Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class went through what he called “some dark times” when he thought he might never play football again after a torn meniscus, a torn bicep in one arm, then the same injury in his other arm forced him to spend more time in rehab than on the field.
Saturday, with starter Malik Harrison out with concussion symptoms, he started, played most of the game and finished with five tackles and two pass break-ups.
“It meant a lot. Coming out of high school this was my dream school. It’s what I always wanted to do, be a starter here. I had some setbacks and injuries and other things. It just felt good to be out there,” Hilliard said.
“I’m still just as ambitious as when I came in. I know who I am and where I want to go and I still have a long way to go. I just have to keep improving.
“You try to stay as positive as possible, never feel sorry for yourself and keep going,” the Cincinnati St. Xavier graduate said.
Another OSU player also recorded a career first when Blake Haubeil, who has handled kickoffs this season and last season, filled in for injured kicker Sean Nuernberger and went 3 for 3 on field goals.
Haubeil, one of the top high school kickers in the country in the 2017 recruiting class, connected from 47 yards, 27 yards and 21 yards.
“Before the game they told me Sean wasn’t going to be able to go today. I was ready to go. I got some reps before the game and we just from there,” Haubeil said.
He said he “definitely” felt some nerves before the first field goal attempt from 21 yards.
“Going out there for that first field goal in front of 100,000 people there was a little bit of nerves but full confidence.”
He also said his kickoff experience helped settle his nerves. “To get all that experience all of last year and this year helped, obviously.”
Haubeil kicked a 61-yard field goal as a high school junior and says he feels confident he could do that in college.
“I know it’s different from high school. But I feel pretty comfortable from 60 yards and in,” he said.
National champions: The 1968 Ohio State national championship team, which was honored during Saturday’s game, has northwest Ohio connections with Lima Senior graduate Dave Cheney and Celina’s Jim Otis.
Haskins stands out again: OSU quarterback Dwayne Haskins (33 of 44 for 412 yards and three touchdowns) exceeded 300 yards passing for the fifth time in the seven games he has started. His 33 completions tied J.T. Barrett for the Ohio State record in that category for the second week in a row.
Hill’s streak: Wide receiver K.J. Hill has caught a pass in 27 consecutive games. His 187 yards against Minnesota was a personal best. He has caught at least four passes in every game this season.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.