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Dogged by injury, Ohio State's Melton feeling better than ever

Apr. 7—COLUMBUS — A year ago, Mitchell Melton was grateful to be healthy.

Now he is looking forward to seeing what he can do this fall while trying not too look too far ahead.

"I'm just trying to go day-by-day. It's hard," he said.

Patience is something the veteran defensive end has had to have since arriving at Ohio State more than four years ago.

He played in one game in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season then missed the '21 season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

In '22, he was one of the sensations of the spring until tearing the ACL in his right knee during the spring game, wiping out another campaign.

Last season, the coaches held him out of spring practice as a precaution, and he saw action in eight games in the fall as one of the backups to Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau despite still learning to trust his body not to fail him again.

"It is very mental," he said. "Every day I found myself counteracting that fear or that doubt if my body's gonna hold up, but I just think my mentality right now is really good for that."

The 6-foot-4, 261-pounder, who had a sack and three tackles for loss last season, is full-go this spring and hoping to carve out a larger role for the fall.

Despite Sawyer and Tuimoloau surprisingly opting to return for their senior seasons, more snaps figure to be available as coach Larry Johnson said he intends to substitute more, something he didn't feel comfortable doing last season.

"It's a blessing," Melton said. "Because a lot of guys in my position have had the same injuries and still haven't came back.

"I'm just thankful that I'm here in the best university in the world and the best training staff and they got me to this point where I can be back to healthy and even better than healthy because I feel like I'm better than what I was."

Melton was a four-star linebacker coming out of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Md., but that is no guarantee of success.

While some prospects just don't pan out, injuries are of course an unfortunate part of the game no matter how many scholarship offers a player had in high school.

A handful of player decide to medically retire every season, but that is not something Melton contemplated.

"I can't do that, man. I love this sport too much to do that, and I love the guys around me," Melton said. "I think that's the biggest thing that brought me back was just like, 'I can't do it to them.' I just know what we have and what we can be on the field. So I'm gonna do everything I can to get back on the field for sure."

While he was 100 percent healthy last year, Melton was still not only running around on reconstructed knees but learning the finer points of playing on the line.

"I feel like last year was like my freshman year, kinda just getting my foot under myself and figuring out how to play college football again," he said. "So I definitely say now I feel more renewed than ever. I think I'm more comfortable in the position I'm playing now playing, and I've gotten a lot of extra work with the guys and coaches off the field.

"So it's definitely helped me get into a more comfortable spot on the field."

He is also thankful for the support he has received off the field to get to this point.

"It was humbling just because I remember coming to Ohio State as nothing but a dream," said Melton, who grew up rooting for the Buckeyes as the son of two Ohio natives. "I had a dreams of being the best version of myself doing, all the things and all the accolades, but then things happen. And it took me by surprise, of course, but I think it also gave me a lesson that I really needed for me to grow into a better version of myself. So I think the journey was needed, and it was a blessing for me."

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