Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Faith in God drove Ohio State's own 'Rudy' to Rose Bowl moment

It was business as usual for Ohio State on New Year’s Day, when the No. 6-ranked Buckeyes took down the No. 9 Washington Huskies to win the 2019 Rose Bowl, coach Urban Meyer’s fourth bowl win in five years.

Beneath the glitzy culmination of another prominent Ohio State season, however, was the story of a modern-day “Rudy.”

As reported by the Akron Beacon Journal, Buckeyes safety Owen Fankhauser was in full uniform for the Rose Bowl on Tuesday after losing the stripe from his practice helmet, a school tradition for athletes deserving of recognition. But that came after a long journey to college football — one that involved some humbling missteps, a misplaced identity and an increased trust in God.

Fankhauser began as a two-sport athlete at Stow-Munroe Falls High School in Ohio, then went to Kent State without a scholarship but plans to play Division I baseball. Turned away from those dreams after failing to make the team, he tried football instead, working out and attending winter tryouts, but that didn’t work, either. And all of a sudden a young man bent on making it in athletics realized his life needed an adjustment from the ground up, as Ryan Lewis reported:

“It was a lot to handle,” Fankhauser said. “It was frustration, anger, and then determination would pop up again. When I got those ‘No’ answers, it started to build up and I realized, ‘Maybe this is it. Maybe I’m done. Maybe I go into the education part and go through my [education] major and move on.’”

He needed a dramatic shift, a significant philosophy change. He had long been taught that life resembled a wheel, with the hub being the main focus. But his wheel of life could no longer simply revolve around only athletics. Instead, he redirected his focus into his own sheer competitiveness and his faith in God to carry him along a path he hadn’t anticipated. It was no longer only about his talent. It was about the sheer idea of proving he could do something, a more inward, pure, philosophical driving force than what he had previously used as motivation.

With eyes turned away from himself and toward God, Fankhauser worked his way back into the sports spectrum. And in spring of 2018, he finally emerged on the college football scene, walking on to Ohio State’s roster.

Now, with a Rose Bowl under his belt and his dreams realized, he’s virtually a living legend to friends and family back home, according to Lewis. Powered by faith and the hard work it inspired, Fankhauser is commonly referred to as “Rudy” in honor of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, the famed Notre Dame running back who was repeatedly turned away by the team before making it on his last shot.

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