COLUMBUS — Before an obviously nervous Devin Barclay booted the winning field goal in overtime against Iowa last Saturday in Ohio Stadium, The Ohio State back-up kicker heard some motivational words from fired-up defensive back Andre Amos.
“This one’s for the roses, baby!”
Moments later, as the football found its target beyond the cross bar to give the home team a thrilling 27-24 victory, the stadium crowd of 105,000 fans erupted in elation, rushing the field to help the Buckeyes celebrate their first Rose Bowl berth in 13 years.
Before Amos offered his words of motivation, however, a product of Raceland, Ky, helped calm the nerves of the 26-year-old former professional soccer player turned OSU kicker.
“He missed a kick earlier in the game, so I knew that was on his mind,” said Aaron Pettrey, the team’s starting kicker, who was sidelined and on crutches due to knee surgery less than two weeks before the game.
“I was trying to help him as much as I could. I told him, ‘Go be the hero,’” Pettrey recalled. “I’m going to the other side of the stadium so when everyone rushes the field I won’t get trampled.”
Pettrey, a former Raceland High School quarterback/kicker who walked on to the OSU team in 2005, knows a thing or two about being a hero. Last year, his 54-yard field goal against Youngstown State was the fourth longest kick in Ohio State history. He followed that kick with two pressure-packed boots, one for 51-yards and another for 44-yards, against Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
He’s well aware of the game-changing effect his position can have on a game.
“I told the specialists before the game started that he was going to kick the game winner,” Pettrey said of Barclay, proving himself to be a prophet when the event actually occurred.
Prior to game time, Pettrey and former Ironton standout Marcus Williams, along with their families, were honored on Senior Day by the Buckeye faithful.
“I was thinking, ‘This is my last time in ‘The Shoe,’’” Williams recalled of his introduction to the packed stadium prior to the game. “It was pretty surreal; that one moment when all eyes are on you for a second.”
After a stellar athletic and academic career as an Ironton Fighting Tiger, Williams accepted an academic scholarship from Ohio State with plans of leaving his playing days behind. But a few trips into the excitement of “The Shoe” on game days proved too alluring to emotionally deny, and, in 2006, he decided to try out as a walk-on.
Four years later, those emotions have produced a lot of memories.
Prior to earning a starting role on the Buckeyes during his first season with the team, Williams earned multiple “Scout Team Player of the Week” awards. Later, doubling as a running back and starter on special teams, he earned the team’s Jack Tatum “Hit of the Week” award for setting the tone against rival Michigan with a vicious hit on a Wolverine defender.
Last year, another special teams hit he issued during yet another Michigan game, this time as a defender, was passed around on YouTube like a rock band groupie.
Pettrey and Williams’ individual journeys as Buckeyes bore witness to two national championship games, three wins over Michigan, a Heisman Trophy winning teammate (Troy Smith), four consecutive Big Ten Championships, and, to date, 42 wins during their careers.
And both players were named to the Academic All-Big Ten Team in 2008 and ’09. Williams also earned the honor in ’07.
With a school record sixth consecutive victory over Michigan on Saturday and a win in the Rose Bowl, Williams and Pettrey will be members of the most victorious senior class in OSU history.
Pettrey said he is ahead of schedule in healing from his surgery and is hoping to be swinging his potent right leg at a football for OSU in this year’s Rose Bowl. Beyond that, his very realistic dream is to play on Sundays in the NFL.
Williams, however, is done with football and focusing on pursuing his master’s degree in physical therapy, a program he began in June. A knee injury he suffered in the Illinois game put him prematurely on the shelf.
Ironically, that same injury could help him empathize with the very people he will be working with in the future.
Isn’t it funny how the happiness of countless people, from injured patients to rabid fans, can be tied to three sets of legs?
Williams is the son of Bobby and Mary Williams of Ironton. Pettrey is the son of Steve and Lillian Pettrey of Raceland, Ky