For 12 games it had been Curtis Grant’s job to stand in front of his Ohio State football teammates, raise his voice and, if needed, the roof.
Then one day it happened. The Buckeyes’ imposing senior linebacker found he had exhausted all of his pregame motivators.
“Curtis had run out of things to say, so it was kind of a spot-on thing,” said OSU senior Joel Hale, the former Center Grove High School player who took over fire-and-brimstone duties prior to the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 6.
“Then we beat Wisconsin, 59-0, so I kept doing it. Just your typical pregame speech.”
Ohio State’s convincing destruction of the Badgers enabled it to perform its own Texas two-step by leapfrogging Baylor and TCU to the fourth and final seed in the inaugural college playoff.
This meant Hale, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound senior offensive lineman who played in the team’s first four games before being sidelined with a lower back injury, would get a second opportunity to get Buckeye blood boiling before facing No. 1 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Ohio State 42, Crimson Tide 35.
Ok, make that a third.
A 42-20 crushing of second-seeded Oregon at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in the title game made the Buckeyes national champions for an eighth time in the program’s 124-year history.
And Hale standing at the summit of his sport for the first time in his life.
“It was great. To win a national championship is amazing,” Hale said. “Obviously, it was hard not to be playing, but you have to take the selfishness out of it. You have to be able to roll with the punches.”
January has been a month to remember for Hale.
Four days after Ohio State’s New Year’s Night stomping of Oregon, he found out he had been cleared to return to the Buckeyes next season by virtue of a medical redshirt.
Better yet, Hale will be moving back to the Buckeyes’ defensive line where he had performed as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
He’ll enter his final season in scarlet and gray with 19 career tackles.
“I’m very happy about it,” Hale said. “There are just a lot of opportunities for me next season to help the team.”
In the event the superstitious side of Hale seeks to keep a good thing going, he’ll next be seen inspiring his fellow Buckeyes on Sept. 7 before Ohio State opens defense of its title at Virginia Tech.
Then it’s three straight inside the legendary Horseshoe against Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan before returning to his home state — birthplace of Hale’s pregame chats — to play at Indiana on Oct. 3.
“Joel being granted another year is a tribute to his dedication as a student-athlete,” said Center Grove football coach Eric Moore, who coached Hale, one of only two players from Indiana on this past season’s OSU squad, from 2007-10.
“He has worked extremely hard as a student and as a football player. Joel’s champion work ethic has led him to success at an awesome university.”
Much as Hale loves being sized for a championship ring, repeating the process a year from now would be even more to his liking.
“Coach (Urban) Meyer really appreciates great leadership, but this season was more humbling for me because of the injury. My first three years I was big-time more vocal,” said Hale, who more than made up for it the final three games.
“We were really a tight-knit team this season. Our senior class has been through a lot, and saw an opportunity to capitalize.”
THE HALE FILE
Name: Joel Hale
Parents: Khris Hale and Dawn Whitaker
High school: Center Grove H.S. – 2011
College: Ohio State University
Did you know: Hale enrolled early at Ohio State (January 2011), lettering as a true freshman . . . played in nine games as a freshman, seven in 2012 and all 14 as a junior before seeing action in four this past season . . . most plays from scrimmage in a single game were the 58 he had both against California and Buffalo during the 2013 season.