Strong leadership is a necessity for any college football team wanting to win games.
Mixing in a few laughs doesn’t hurt, either.
Robert Landers, who spontaneously decided to wear a cowboy hat to the Rose Bowl, is happy to provide both for Ohio State.
“When you’re around a group of people who are of high quality, it’s hard not to have your spirit picked up,” the defensive tackle from Wayne High School said. “I am one of those people that I’m very outgoing, I’m loud, I’m goofy, I’m silly. I try to have fun with all the boys.”
Of course, his personality is not what got him a scholarship to play football at Ohio State.
Being able to disrupt opposing offenses is his first duty for the buckeyes, and Landers has done that the past three seasons as part of the regular rotation.
He notched 25 tackles, including five for loss and one sack, last season when he started 11 of 13 games.
With a year of eligibility left, the 6-foot-1, 283-pound bowling ball of energy has already notched 17.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
He’s also lifted the spirits of numerous teammates, including fellow Wayne grad Blue Smith, a freshman receiver on the Ohio State team last fall.
“Any time I’m down, I talk to him,” Smith said after the Buckeyes beat Washington in the Rose Bowl. “We’ve been close ever since we were kids. I always looked up to him. He’s a great role model for me so hopefully he stays one more year because I’d love to have him. He helps me with a lot. He got me through a lot of bad situations I went through this year and just pulled me out of it and made me stronger.”
Landers has also helped another area grad both on and off the field.
Unlike Smith, Josh Myers gets to work directly against Landers at times during practice.
The center from Miamisburg does not enjoy it, either.
“He is low and explosive,” said Myers, who was one of the top-rated offensive line prospects in the country two years ago. "Extremely explosive. He’s pretty much the only one I have come across who is built like that.”
The redshirt freshman, who is listed at 6-5, 308, added with a chuckle, “I’m glad he’s the only one I come across who is like him, too.”
However troublesome Landers might be between the lines, they have forged a friendship off the field.
“Just an amazing guy,” Myers said. “Treats everybody well. Never mad. Never angry. He just always has a smile on his face. Always personable. Always comes and says hi to me. I was a freshman in the locker room and didn’t really know anybody he helped me through the process.”
Larry Johnson, Ohio State’s veteran defensive line coach, appreciates what Landers brings to the field and to the locker room.
His face lit up when asked about Landers, who was a late addition to the Buckeyes’ recruiting class four years ago.
“A lot of fun every day,” Johnson said of coaching him. “Every day you look forward to going on the field because you know Robert brings great energy. He’s got great leadership skills. He cares about the guys and keeping it light for the guys. When he speaks, guys listen to him.
“The most important thing is he’s a guy that does it by example. He works extremely hard to be where he’s at.”
A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Landers is built a differently than most of his fellow defensive linemen, some of whom look as much like power forwards as football players.
That’s fine with Johnson.
“I’m not a guy who thinks you have to have all five-stars,” the coach said. “I think you’ve got to have a mix to make a great room. ‘BB’ brings more to us other than football, so he’s the kind of guy you love to have around.”
Short, stout and powerful, Landers’ game is built on leverage, quickness and relentless effort.
“I say all the time he’s gravity challenged, but he’s really athletic and makes a difference for us on the field,” Johnson said.
That also extends off the field, where Landers provides more than comic relief.
He took it upon himself to share with teammates his personal battle with depression and anxiety, feelings he has dealt with since losing his father.
Robert Landers Sr. was shot to death in Trotwood on Dec. 19, 2006, a crime that has never been solved.
Although the younger Landers went on to become an accomplished athlete (as has his younger brother, Trey, a starter for the Dayton basketball team), he understandably continued to be dogged by feelings of despair over that tragedy.
Usually smiling and laughing on the outside, things were sometimes not so rosy on the inside — unbeknownst to others.
“When I was struggling with my mental health issues, it felt like it was just me, so I didn’t want to talks to anybody,” he said. "I kept it to myself.”
That changed when head coach Urban Meyer brought a motivational speaker in to talk to the team last spring, the message struck a chord with the defensive tackle.
He decided to open up about his feelings, hoping to set a different kind of example for them to follow.
“It allowed me to open my eyes to how real mental health is and it allowed me to open my eyes to the fact that I’m not the only person struggling with it,” Landers said. “I came out and told my team the things I was struggling with.”
He was relieved to be able to let his guard down and take advantage of his status as an Ohio State football player to try to spread an important message.
“It was time for me to put my pride to the side, get out of my own head and do what I could to potentially help someone else just by telling my story,” he said. "I felt like just by telling people what I was struggling with to be in the position that I’m in now, it could help motivate someone else to let them know they’re not doing it alone.”
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