Ohio State football will have a heavy representation in Super Bowl LVI, including five current Bengals starters who were on the same roster in Columbus in 2015.
Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, Joe Burrow, Sam Hubbard and Isaiah Prince have taken different journeys to get to the pinnacle of football, but they are all in position to start Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.
Here is a look at how each got to this point with the Bengals:
Apple was a four-star prospect in the class of 2013, Urban Meyer’s first full-year recruiting class at Ohio State. He was the No. 52 player in the country and ranked second in the state of New Jersey in 247Sports Composite rankings. Apple took a redshirt as a freshman but was one of the major contributors on Ohio State’s 2014 national championship squad. He was the No. 10 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft but played for three different teams in his first five years before landing with the Bengals this season. Thrust into the lineups by injuries, he has come on later in the year and made one of the biggest plays of the season when he tipped a pass that was intercepted to set up the game-winning field goal at Tennessee in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Bell was the highest-rated player in Ohio State’s 2013 class, edging Middletown’s Jalin Marshall. A five-star prospect from Rossville, Ga., he was the No. 26 player in the country and No 2 safety. He did not have as big an impact as expected as a true freshman, but he started for the 2014 title team and was a first-team All-American in 2015. The Saints chose him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he was one of New Orleans’ top tacklers for four straight seasons. Bell joined the Bengals as a free agent last year and was the only Bengal to play every possible snap on either side of the ball. A team leader, Bell is second on the squad with 97 tackles this season, and his interception in overtime of the AFC Championship Game set up the Bengals’ game-winning drive.
Burrow was a four-star prospect and the No. 11 player in state as a senior at Athens High School in Southeast Ohio in 2015. He joined a loaded quarterback room (Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones) as a freshman at Ohio State and redshirted before seeing time in mop-up duty in 2016 and ‘17. A hand injury opened the door to Dwayne Haskins to become Barrett’s backup in ‘17, and leading a rally at Michigan that November gave Haskins a leg up in the ensuing competition to replace Barrett full time. Meyer left the competition open after spring practice, but Burrow transferred to find another opportunity after completing 29 of 39 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes. He landed at LSU, where his pedestrian first season (222.6 yards per game, 16 touchdowns, 57.8 completion percentage) gave way to one of the greatest of all time (378.1 YPG., 60 touchdowns, 76.3 percent) and a Heisman Trophy. That set him up to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft by the Bengals, and he has already broken multiple team records in Cincinnati while looking poised to be one of the best in the league for years to come.
Credit: David Jablonski
Hubbard was a four-star prospect in the 2014 class coming out of Cincinnati Moeller, where he led the Crusaders to a pair of state championships. He played 40 games for Ohio State and had 29.5 tackles for loss, including 17 sacks. The Bengals chose him in the third round of the 2017 draft, and he has 24 sacks in four seasons for his hometown team. Like Bell, Hubbard has emerged as a team leader, and he signed a lucrative contract extension prior to this season. He has 13 tackles and three sacks in the postseason.
Prince was a four-star prospect in the class of 2015. The top-ranked player in Maryland that year, he was considered the No. 5 offensive tackle recruit in the country. The Greenbelt native played in every game over his four seasons at Ohio State and was a starter from 2016-18. He was a captain and All-Big Ten first-teamer his senior season when the Buckeyes won the Big Ten championship for the second year in a row. Prince was picked in the sixth round by the Dolphins in the 2019 NFL Draft and claimed by the Bengals off waivers later that year. He did not play last season (opting out because of the COVID-19 pandemic) but saw action in 15 regular season games and has started in all three playoff games at right tackle for the Bengals.
Apple and Bell are trying to join an exclusive club of players to be part of an Ohio State national championship season and a team that won the Super Bowl.
Three players from Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team have already won Super Bowl rings: Chase Farris, Jeff Heuerman and Darron Lee.
The others to pull off the impressive double play are Matt Snell, Bob Vogel, Paul Warfield, Jim Tyrer, Jack Tatum, Morris Bradshaw, Mike Doss, Santonio Holmes, Will Smith, A.J. Hawk and Matt Wilhelm.