Buckeyes Turned Defenders: A Reunion of Champions

While Ohio State fans may still be reeling from the painful memories of the 2019 Fiesta Bowl, the XFL’s D.C. Defenders may be the perfect remedy for the off-season blues that plague Buckeye Nation. Here is an in-depth look at three former Buckeyes who are all wearing a different shade of scarlet this season.

Cardale Jones – QB #12

Cardale Jones embraces the new Defenders Uniforms
Cardale Jones/Twitter

Cardale Jones is without a doubt the closest thing to a household name you’re going to find in the XFL. Not because of a prolific NFL career, and not even because of a collegiate dynasty. It’s the way he stepped onto the big stage that leads his reputation to precede him. I wrote a whole profile on the guy, and I’m still finding reasons to be impressed.

In 2014, Jones got his first start against then 11th ranked Wisconsin in the Big 10 Championship game after starter J.T. Barret was injured the week prior. He proceeded to lead the Buckeyes to a shocking 59-0 victory, and was named the game MVP for his contributions.

Jones then laid any thoughts of beginner’s luck to bed by going on to beat Alabama in the CFP Semifinal 42-35. He finished his three-game campaign with a 42-20 beat down on the Oregon Ducks in the College Football Championship.

Cardale’s ability to assimilate seamlessly into a starting role so deep into the season, and turning it into a championship run for Ohio State is something special. It just doesn’t happen.

At the very least, Defenders fans can go into the season knowing their starting QB has stood tall and performed on a big stage through major adversity. The man has ice in his veins, and for the first time, the trust and backing of an entire franchise, along with a group of veteran coaches on the sideline.

Just don’t let him give you pointers in geography.

Doran Grant – CB #21

Doran Grant Photo with the DC Defenders
DC Defenders Welcome Doran Grant Photo via DC Defenders/Twitter

Joining Cardale Jones on the Defenders is his former teammate, cornerback Doran Grant. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Grant attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. As a dual sport athlete, Doran shined in both track and football.

He was named to the 2010 USA Today High School All-American team for football, and won state titles for the 60m indoor hurdles as well as the 110m outdoor hurdles. Being graded as a four star recruit, Grant was recruited heavily, but ultimately decided he wanted to be a Buckeye.

Grant played in each of his four seasons with Ohio State, but earned a starting spot for his junior and senior seasons in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Over the course of just those two years as a starter, he racked up 115 tackles, 8 interceptions (returning one for a touchdown), and 19 passes defended.

In Grant’s senior season, he ranked third in the conference for interceptions (5), two of which came in the Big 10 Championship game against Wisconsin. His individual contributions played a huge role in handing the Badgers their first shutout loss since 1997.

At the NFL combine, he clocked in at an impressive 4.44s 40 time, slightly below the league average for his position (4.47s). His 33″ vertical was below average for his position. Though he didn’t particularly shine in front of the scouts, he was still drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers 121st overall in the fourth round.

Grant showed flashes of skill in some preseason games, but was eventually waived and bounced around NFL offseason and practice squads. Though he continued to make big plays in preseason games, on occasion, nothing seemed to push him over the hump to secure a permanent active roster spot in the NFL.

Doran Grant takes one to the house in a Chicago Bears Pre-season game, two days before he was cut by the team.
Video via @ChicagoBears/Twitter

In October of 2018, after struggling to find a way to play on Sunday’s, Grant was signed to the Arizona Hotshots, a team in the then-new Alliance of American Football.

Eventually he found himself on the Atlanta Legends before the 2019 AAF season. He went on to record seven tackles through eight games, but was unable to finish the season, as the ill-fated AAF folded in April of the same year.

Now, Doran Grant has Brough his talents to the XFL, joining the D.C. Defenders. Grant showed why he belongs there in the pre-season, and looks primed to execute in the upcoming XFL season.

Doran Grant showing off his ball tracking skills in a Defenders scrimmage against the Guardians
DC Defenders/Twitter

Tracy Sprinkle- DT #93

You may remember this former Buckeye, and it may not be because of his football performance. Although Sprinkle was with the team for his freshman year in 2013, he didn’t manage to see the field. He was then temporarily dismissed before his sophomore season, due to a drug related arrest. Although I wont get into details of the charge, lets just say he might be a big fan of a certain Eric Clapton song…

While his personal conduct may leave a bad taste in some fans’ mouths, the young man persevered, worked his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff, and was able to play in three games for the following 2015 season. He locked down the starting defensive tackle position heading into his senior year.

Unfortunately, Sprinkle suffered a near-career-ending knee injury in the opening game of his senior season against Bowling Green. This ended up forcing him to sit out the entire season. Once again, he pushed through the adversity, and eventually returned to start as a defensive lineman and lead the team as a defensive captain.

Tracy Sprinkle discusses rehab timeline
Dave Biddle/Youtube

Sprinkle managed to play and start in 11 games his senior year, recording 8 solo tackles, 12 assists, 3.5 TFL, 1 pass deflection, and 1 fumble recovery.

His 2017 season weren’t particularly earth-shattering, but considering he was coming off of a season-ending injury the year prior, Sprinkle performed better than expected.

Unsurprisingly, Tracy went undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, though he was signed by the Carolina Panthers as a free agent. Before the NFL regular season began, he was cut from the team.

After his brief stint in the NFL, Sprinkle also moved to the AAF’s Atlanta Legends, where he joined former and future teammate Doran Grant. In the short 8 weeks that the league operated, Sprinkle put together an impressive stat sheet of ten tackles, including five sacks and four TFL.

Sprinkle sacks the QB in AAF
Atlanta Legends/Twitter

Sprinkle was a huge advocate for the AAF since day 1. He loved the idea of getting fringe NFL players more opportunities to display their talents, and eventually graduate to the next level. So you can imagine his frustration when the league dissolved in its inaugural season.

Recently, Tracy was picked up and promptly dropped by none other than the Cleveland Browns, surely adding further to his frustration.

Now, Sprinkle has been reunited with two former Ohio State teammates in D.C.

“THE” Outlook

The Defenders are led by NFL veteran coach Pep Hamilton, (whose collegiate coaching history need not be mentioned). They are in position to start the season strong after showing flashes of greatness in their 21-16 preseason scrimmage win over Seattle Dragons. If they are able to isolate some of their weaknesses during these final days of preparation, there’s not much standing between them and bringing another professional sports championship to the District.

“We have a tough football team right now. But we can’t play so reckless that it hurts us. It’s one thing to play with great enthusiasm and energy, but we have to play smart. That’s what I learned about my team today” – Pep Hamilton, after preseason scrimmage

D.C.’s Buckeye triumvirate will be exciting to watch. All three players are projected to be impact players. All three have also spent some time with NFL programs, and likely aspire to return to that level.

If you are an Ohio State fan, pay attention. These former Buckeyes are looking to make a statement on the new and uniquely big stage of the XFL. Expect them to leave it all on the field this year, as these guys know better than anyone that you only get so many chances to prove yourself.

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