As defensive end Kendric Smith jogs off the field through a light mist, he pats the helmet of sophomore Tarell Basham who runs to the 32-yard line to take his teammate’s spot.
While Smith takes a knee next to his fellow defensive linemen, his breath can be seen in the icy air but is quickly taken away by a harsh fall wind. Although he is exhausted from a long day of practice, Smith is reassured by the fact that whoever rotates in for him will be just as strong and intense as he is on every snap.
“We all lean on each other very heavily,” Smith said. “I think the fall off from last year was very small in the second team so anybody could be the one to step up and make a big play.”
The ‘Cats defense has also held its opponents to under 100 yards for a MAC-best six times this season.
Aside from this category, Ohio’s statistics and record (6-6, 4-4 MAC) do not leap off the page. The Bobcats are also unimpressive on the stat sheet, ranking tenth or worse in 13 different categories including scoring offense, pass defense, passing offense and fumbles lost.
The defensive line for the Bobcats, however, is much more than numbers. Inside the trenches, they are a single heart that beats together, a unity that continues when Smith passes the torch to energetic players like Basham.
Even though Basham has only been at Ohio for one full season, he immediately felt welcomed to the defensive line brotherhood.
“It’s always been a bond on the D-line since I’ve gotten here,” Basham said. “We just love each other. We love playing with each other, and we’re with each other for the majority of the time when we’re here at school, so it’s hard not to love these guys.”
As the first line of defense, the members of the ‘Cats defensive line see their job as both a responsibility and a privilege.
“Every position is important but we just know that it starts with us—we’re the front line, we’re the first line of defense so we have to be on point as much as possible because we’ve got to hold the fort,” Smith said.
To Smith and his teammates, however, it’s much more than numbers or a position on the field - it’s an opportunity to be a part of a second family away from home. This family aspect rings true for Smith whose home in Texas is nineteen hours away. As a result he rarely gets to see his family.
“I feel like we’ve got a great brotherhood,” Smith said. “We rarely have any problems in the group, we’re just like a family and I really like that.”
Ohio’s defensive line takes pride in the work it puts in week after week and likes to enjoy its down time by hanging out with one another.
Playing video games and joking around are not uncommon for these Bobcats, but there’s a reason for why they are around each other so much on a day-to-day basis and that’s chemistry.
“The trust is all there. When I look to my left and I look to my right I know I can trust these boys,” senior nose guard Antwan Crutcher said. “At the end of the day, we do all of our work together to be the best that we can possibly be on game day.”
Crutcher, the most experienced defensive lineman on the team, believes that it is vital to be around his group as much as possible. Having dinner as one unit with defensive line coach Jesse Williams every week is actually one of many examples of how this group connects off the gridiron.
On Ohio’s defensive line, the players have really bought into the idea that the performance of the entire defense depends on how well they execute individually and collectively.
“We feel like we’re definitely a big part of this team. I always say we’re the heartbeat of this team and if we have a great day our team’s going to have a great day,” Smith said.
The heartbeat of Ohio’s defense was a saying coined by Smith and Crutcher last year when both players had career-best years combining for 70 tackles.
This saying of one heartbeat and being the life of the defense has really resonated with the group, and young players like Basham are determined to keep the heart of the defensive line pumping after players like Crutcher and Smith graduate.
“In the defensive line we’re all like brothers,” Basham said. “It’s a bond that can’t and won’t be broken.”