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Herron redeems himself with OSU fans

COLUMBUS (AP) — The word rolled down from the top rows and picked up steam in the expensive seats at Ohio Stadium: “Booooom!”

Not so long before it might have been an extended boo. Not anymore.

Twice suspended by the NCAA this year for accepting improper benefits, Dan “Boom” Herron is now adored by Ohio State fans because the team is winning and he’s picking up big yardage.

“It kind of gives you a spark,” Herron said of the chant. “It’s always good to have your fans behind you and supportive of you. I was just happy to be back playing in Ohio State stadium, just being with my teammates and making some plays.”

Held out of the Buckeyes’ first six games, the senior tailback has rushed for 274 yards and a touchdown in his two games — not so coincidentally victories over ranked opponents.

“We’ve got confidence putting the ball in his hands,” interim coach Luke Fickell said during preparations for Saturday’s home game with Indiana. “You know that you put the ball in somebody’s hands and they’ve got a chance to make some plays. And that’s what it comes down to.”

Once a pariah, now he’s a team leader and favorite of Ohio State’s fickle fans.

Herron had a huge junior season as the Buckeyes went 12-1, won their sixth straight Big Ten title and then went on to edge Arkansas 31-26 in the Sugar Bowl. He was all-conference while rushing for 1,155 yards.

But a month before the bowl victory in New Orleans, Herron was one of five Buckeyes implicated in a scandal involving a local tattoo-parlor owner. The players, including Herron, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, starting offensive lineman Mike Adams and second-leading receiver DeVier Posey, traded championship rings, signed jerseys and other memorabilia for cash from Eddie Rife, owner of the parlor and the focal point of a federal drug-trafficking investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s office notified Ohio State that it had found the roughly $12,000 in merchandise while searching Rife’s home. Ohio State notified the NCAA, and the university and college sports’ sanctioning body recommended five-game suspensions for all the players. In a curious twist, the NCAA permitted them to play in the rich bowl game, with their suspensions to begin with the 2012 season.

A later search through then-coach Jim Tressel’s emails found that he had known about the players’ involvement for 10 months, yet contrary to his contract and NCAA rules he had not told any of his superiors and had filled out forms declaring he knew of no violations. That led to his forced resignation in May, part of a revelation-a-day summer of embarrassments for Ohio State that included other suspensions for taking money to attend a charity event.

Pryor bolted to the NFL, but the other four players were about to rejoin the team early in October when Ohio State announced that Herron and Posey, along with others, had accepted too much pay for doing too little work at a summer job provided by a Buckeyes booster. The booster was banned from contact with the athletes, Herron was suspended for a sixth game, and Posey was hit with five more games on the sidelines. He will not be back until there are just two regular-season games left in his college career.

Ohio State, which vacated the 2010 season, could receive its final sanctions from the NCAA any day.

Herron returned in peak form, however. He rushed for 114 yards and a score at No. 15 Illinois, then carried a career-best 33 times for 160 yards in Saturday’s stunning 33-29, last-minute upset of No. 12 Wisconsin.

“Well, people really respond to me good now. We’re winning. Winning and we’re doing pretty good,” he said with a grin. “I got some pretty mean people … but I really didn’t kind of listen to them. I stayed positive about everything.

“Just kept on moving forward.”

The Buckeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) already had quality backs in Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, but Herron was moved ahead of them immediately and their carries have diminished dramatically. Hyde, the team’s leading rusher with 408 yards and a 5.2-yard per carry average, has barely seen any action since Herron came back.

“He’s known as an impact player and that’s exactly what he has been,” said Adams, who has played the last three games. “It was great to see him back in the ‘Shoe rocking like he was (against Wisconsin). Every time he had the ball you just got the feeling something big was going to happen, and a lot of times he made those plays so it was nice to have him back.”

Herron has also provided an emotional lift.

“Boom, he’s the emotional leader,” wide receiver Corey Brown said. “He’s the person that’s screaming on the sideline when we score, not to let up, to make sure that we’ve always got our heads up and don’t get down when we’re going through adversity.”

Herron is thankful for the people who remained in his corner through the suspensions. He was asked if he thought Buckeyes fans would be so supportive — with the “Booooom!” cheer instead of boos — if the team weren’t winning and he weren’t productive.

“I’m not sure. Like I say, everybody has their opinion, so I couldn’t really tell you what people would be thinking if we were losing or if I was rushing for just 25 yards,” he said.

He said he can’t dwell on the violations and the tumultuous year surrounding the program.

“I can’t worry about ‘what if,”’ he said. “You have to worry about now.”


Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/rustymillerap.