For six weeks or so, Gary Patterson has been telling us it wasn’t time to talk about Ohio State. No, first, they needed to grow the guys up and survive Southern. Then, they were going to take SMU’s best shot on a short week. Get to 1-0. Get to 2-0. Then, and only then, could we starting barking at the Buckeyes.
Well, TCU Football is 2-0, it’s week three, and Ohio State is coming. It’s finally time to talk about the Buckeyes.
On Tuesday, reporters gathered in the Four Sevens Team Room to do just that, and had the opportunity to talk to two of the captains and leaders of the TCU Football program about this week’s big game. But, while they are certainly excited for week three, they were careful to toe the party line and remind us that “it’s just another football game.”
Kelton Hollins is a football player, something he reminded reporters of on more than one occasion. He also is, apparently, a graduate of the Gary Patterson school of saying nothing while saying everything. Though reporters kept asking how he felt about finally playing a big game, Hollins wasn’t biting. To him, it’s just a chance to play football. “I’m pumped because it’s my next opportunity to play a football game. This is a childhood dream that I get to live out every day, this is the next game, the next time I am living out that dream. The excitement I have to play football - you can’t compare it to anything else.”
For senior safety Niko Small, the sentiment can be echoed. “Everybody lives to play on the big stage, and we are blessed to have the opportunity to play on the big stage against a great program. But we can’t let that affect our game plan or our focus.”
Both players were more than willing to acknowledge that they face a tough task Saturday at AT&T Stadium against a team that is as good, or better, than any they will face this year. But as far as this being a statement game, the TCU players aren’t buying it. “I view every game as an opportunity to make a statement,” Hollins said. Small, agrees, “There’s excitement all around, excitement on the campus, excitement for everybody. But for us, we just try and take it the same way as we take every other game. We just try and focus on the one goal we have - to get to 3-0. That’s the only thing we have to think about and worry about. For us, we want to stay as a team, stay focused on what we want to do.” That being said, he is willing to acknowledge that the stage is a little bigger than it was the previous two games. “Everybody lives to play on the big stage, and we are blessed to have the opportunity to play on the big stage against a great program. But we can’t let that affect our game plan or our focus.”
With Game Day in town for the event, and it absolutely is an event, there is certainly a different vibe on campus. That’s something that the players appreciate, not just for how it feels, but for what it took to get to this point. “We love having Game Day over here - they always treat us well. For us, as the players, we try and just focus on the things we need to focus on. We get too excited, it might mess us up,” Small said.
That tradition was built on the backs of great players that came before them, guys that built this program from the ground up and made TCU Football the type of program that Game Day wants to visit, that Ohio State wants to play, that matters to a national audience. That isn’t lost on Niko Small, who was a recruit when the Buckeyes edged out the Horned Frogs for the fourth and final College Football Playoff spot in 2014.
“A lot of hard work, dedication, and tradition got us to where we are. A lot of people put us in the place we want to be at now, so we have to carry on the tradition.” And while he is quick to credit those that came before him, “guys like Jerry Hughes and Andy Dalton, they set the standard. Now I have to live up to it,” he believes he has a team that can play with anybody, too. “If you ask me, I will never say that anybody on my team is less than anybody on any other team - and I am sure, if you asked Ohio State, they would say the same thing. Great players, great coaches on both sides - whoever wants it more at the end of the day is going to get that game.”
Hollins agrees, and has taken it upon himself to make sure his unit, the offensive line, performs up to the standards that led to six former TCU offensive tackles opening the NFL season on NFL rosters. “I know what I want the team to be, so I feel like I have to step up and push my teammates. But I don’t want to be a leader that only creates followers, I want to be a leader that creates leaders. So with that, I push my teammates to also lead the team.”
For both Small and Hollins, though, it’s not about the build up, it’s not about the excitement, it’s not about the big stage. It’s about playing a football game and trying to get to win number three. That’s been Hollins’ dream since he was a child. “Wherever we play, whatever we play in - I am going to play my hardest. We can be playing in backyard - we would be playing football, so I would be living out my dream.” Small is ready to kick things off in the parking lot, if that’s what it takes. “I’m a football player. We could line this up in the parking lot and I would be excited. We can play this in the backyard, anywhere, and we would be excited to play this game.”