Shazier finds strength in number

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite the exhaustion and the late hour after a hard-hitting, prime-time win, Ryan Shazier simply couldn’t get to sleep.

The Ohio State linebacker was tossing and turning, his mind racing and processing the loss of a teammate that had been a costly price of victory over Wisconsin.

Christian Bryant had only just been diagnosed with a fractured ankle and taken directly to the hospital for surgery, but Shazier was already racking his brain to come up with a way to honor the star safety and emotional leader for the fourth-ranked Buckeyes.

“I had a really tough time the night of the game, to be honest,” Shazier said. “I was just thinking, ‘Man, I want to do something.’

“It was just on my mind, so I texted the coaches.”

Shazier sent what on the surface seemed to be a relatively simple request to change numbers, swapping out his normal No. 10 for the No. 2 that belonged to Bryant.

The response that came back was to check with the normal owner of that jersey first, and the Buckeyes could work out the rest of the details after that.

The approval from Bryant followed shortly afterward, albeit with one stipulation.

“When we talked he said, ‘As long as you’re doing good in it,’” Shazier said. “I just made sure to do that, and now I have to keep going strong in it.

“I wanted him to be there spiritually with us. I know he’s still going to be there with us, but when people see a tackle, I want them to be able to say, ‘Is that Christian?’ People will still know that he’s out there.”

The Buckeyes aren’t going to have the physical version with them for the rest of the regular season, and the timeline for recovery is still somewhat unclear as it relates to a potential return for a bowl game.

But while Shazier has the same type of attachment to his normal number as most players and even has his “10” tattooed on his left arm, he’s shown no hesitancy in the past putting on different digits to honor others -- and his play has done even more to pay tribute to those close to him.

Last season, Shazier made a one-game switch and put on No. 48 in honor of high school friend Gary Curtis, who had died earlier in the year. He capped that tribute in a wildly productive outing against Penn State with an interception return for a touchdown that sparked a crucial win on the road on the way to an unbeaten season.

Now, midway through his junior campaign, Shazier has committed to wearing Bryant’s jersey for the rest of the year. And his first appearance in the new uniform featured 10 tackles, a quarterback hurry, a tackle for a loss and certainly enough evidence to earn Bryant’s approval to keep putting it on.

“Ryan is one of the most incredible young men I've ever been around,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He's got a heart of gold.

“When Ryan comes to me like that, I’m like, ‘Settle down; what's the best thing to do and how does it affect our numbers and all those things.’ But with him, that's one of about 50 ideas he always comes up with, and it's all pure ideas and caring in its pure form, which is kind of cool.”

Shazier certainly doesn’t plan to keep the number forever, though.

For now, he’s just keeping it warm and doing everything he can to keep Bryant’s energy on the field with the Buckeyes.

“I really have a personal attachment to No. 10, but I feel like the guys that I have out there with me represent way more than my number,” Shazier said. “Christian Bryant means way more to this team than No. 10 does, so that’s why I felt like I needed to wear No. 2 -- that number is way more important to this team now.

“So, yeah, I’ll wear it until he comes back in the national championship.”

Should the Buckeyes get there, an old, familiar jersey will be waiting for Shazier. And Ohio State will have likely had plenty of help from No. 2 along the way.