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COLUMBUS, Ohio - When Tyler Moeller returned to the Ohio State football team for the first time in a year during fall camp, the senior defensive back was ironically nervous about initially doing what he did best.
Having missed an entire year while recovering from a serious head injury, Moeller wasn't concerned about getting back into the flow of playing football. Instead, making contact to his head was his chief concern.
"It took me a while to get back into the swing of things," Moeller said. "The biggest thing was getting past the whole being nervous about getting hurt again and what is going to happen. Playing football again came natural."
So the most natural way to cure that apprehension, of course, was to go out and hit. But Moeller, usually on the delivering end of big hits, received a big blow to his head in Ohio State's first full contact practice of fall camp.
Still somewhat tentative to make contact while favoring his head, it was wide receiver Taurian Washington who made all the difference. Washington, a senior wide receiver, ran a slant route and accidentally collided with Moeller for what the defensive back described as a big hit.
"I got hit hard. That's how I got past (the apprehension)," Moeller said. "It was better for me because I didn't see him coming and it was a really big hit. I think if I saw him coming I would have maybe braced myself or something like that.
"Him coming and hitting me was a big step," Moeller continued. "That was the first time I was like, 'OK, I will be fine.'"
While there is no questioning a big hit was delivered, the significance of the play rings the hardest for Moeller, especially because Washington couldn't recall the play even happening.
It was significant to Moeller, of course, because after he got up from the hit, he believed he was ready to go be his full self yet again. And since then, he has been.
"I don't remember that, it may have been the other way around," joke Washington in reference to Moeller's reputation to deliver big hits.
And thus far this season, Moeller describing himself as "fine" after the hit received from Washington has turned out to be quite the understatement. Moeller has turned out to be one of the biggest playmakers on this stacked Buckeye defense.
But it didn't always seem like that was going to be the case. There was a time that Moeller wasn't sure he would ever strap on the pads and play football again after his head injury.
Moeller's injury dates back to last July when he was in Treasure Island, Fla., with his family celebrating his grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary. While in Florida, Moeller went to a local restaurant where a conflict ended with him being punched by a man named Ralph Gray Decker, who had recently pleaded guilty to felony battery.
Moeller eventually had surgery on his head, which consistent of drilling two holes into his skull to alleviate pressure on his brain. This fall after a long and strenuous recovery period that lasted the course of the year, Moeller was cleared to return in a full capacity.
"We weren't sure he was ever going to play again and to see him out there doing very well is an inspiration to the whole team," said redshirt sophomore tight end Jake Stoneburner. "We knew he was going to be back playing like this because we saw glimpses of it a couple years ago and the first game he was great and he has been great ever since."
Moeller was named Ohio State's defensive player of the week after his performance against Ohio on Saturday. Moeller caught an interception, forced a fumble, and had three tackles (one for loss) against the Bobcats.
Thus far this season, Moeller has brought a different energy to the defense. Excelling as the team's "star" - a linebacker/defensive back hybrid - Moeller has flown around the field making plays in both run support, pass coverage, and even blitzing.
On the season, Moeller is second on the team in tackles (16) and leads Ohio State in tackles for loss (3.5). Moeller has been the player Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel has expected since the 2009 spring game.
"Well, when he left here the spring of '09, we assumed he'd be a starter," Tressel said Tuesday. "He's an active guy. If you remember back to the '09 spring game, I don't know who graduated after '08, but all of a sudden he got more reps and graduated into a role.
"In that '09 spring game you'd have left the stadium saying he may be one of the leading tackles next year."
Moeller said he feels as if the "star" position was made for him and he has continued to solidify himself as one of the playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.
It has been since fall camp since he had his head scanned for precautionary reasons and Moeller said he'll receiver another one in the middle of the season.
Moeller said he is looking at this season as if he is a senior, explaining he won't have the opportunity to apply for a medical redshirt for an extra year of eligibility to after the season is over.
Though Moeller expects he should have another year with the Buckeyes, he doesn't take any second for granted when on the football field. With his health, Moeller is just focusing on making plays - and his teammates notice.
"It is just a blessing for our defense to get Tyler back on the field," said fellow defensive back Orhian Johnson. "When we call our nickel package and we know Tyler is on the field, we're probably going to get a big play. Tyler just goes out there making plays. He is a baller."
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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