For decades, the Ohio State Buckeyes have been one of the country’s most prominent college football programs. Ohio State has had legendary coaches like Woody Hayes, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer. OSU has also had some incredible players like Orlando Pace, Archie Griffin, Ezekiel Elliott, and others. However, while many teams have intimidating nicknames like the “Tigers,” “Wolverines,” or “Gators,” Ohio State is called the “Buckeyes.” So, why is that their nickname?
The Ohio State Buckeyes have been an excellent college football program for decades
Ohio State has a history of excellence. From Woody Hayes to Urban Meyer and Ryan Day, they almost always have one of the best college football coaches leading their program.
Hayes led the Buckeyes to five national championships in 1954, 1957, 1961, 1968, and 1970, according to Ohio State’s site. He also had some legendary players play for him. This includes running back Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner.
The Buckeyes then had other excellent players after Hayes’ tenure as head coach, like Eddie George, Orlando Pace, and Cris Carter. However, OSU didn’t win another championship until Jim Tressel came along and won one in 2002. Tressel also had some stellar players play for him, like Troy Smith, who also won the Heisman Trophy. Urban Meyer, though, really took the program to the next level when he took over in 2012.
Ohio State ultimately won the first-ever College Football Playoff national championship during Meyer’s third season at OSU in 2014. The stars on that team were guys like Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, and Michael Thomas.
OSU then continued to have success under Meyer until he retired following the 2018 season. Ryan Day then became the head coach and has continued the program’s excellence. Day has led the Buckeyes to two College Football Playoff appearances and a national championship game in his first two seasons as head coach.
Why is Ohio State’s football team called the Buckeyes?
If you’re unfamiliar with what a buckeye is, it’s a nut that grows on trees. The buckeye tree is also the official tree of Ohio.
According to the OSU athletic department site, Buckeyes became the official nickname for OSU in the mid-1900s. However, people referred to Ohioans as “buckeyes” years before that, as the name’s relationship with locals actually goes all the way back to the 1700s. 1788 to be exact, years before Ohio even became a state.
Col. Ebenezer Sproat was the leader of the legal delegation at Marrietta’s first court session in 1788. Native Americans in Marietta — a Northwest Territory that is now a town in Ohio — referred to Sproat as “Hetuck,” the Native American word for buckeye. They did this because of his impressive stature as he stood at 6 feet, 4 inches. Sproat then reportedly kept the nickname for the remainder of his life. It ended up spreading to other local settlers, too.
Ohio State’s site said that writers then often referred to locals as “buckeyes” by the 1830s. However, it appears that the 1840 presidential election really made the buckeye the official symbol for Ohio.
According to The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper, William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States who was from Ohio, made the buckeye nut his campaign symbol. He wore them around his neck and made them into a campaign button, which his supporters wore.
“From that time on, buckeyes were associated so closely with Ohio that the state just adopted them as a statewide symbol,” Ohio State Archives representative Julie Petersen said to The Lantern.
The buckeye tree then later became the state’s official tree in 1953.
OSU officially became the Buckeyes in 1950
The Ohio State University made “Buckeyes” its school nickname in 1950. However, many people had already been calling them that for years.
In fact, the OSU student senate even had deliberations in 1930 about “the effectiveness of having the Buckeye as the school mascot,” according to The Lantern. The senate then ultimately decided to keep the name and to let the question “ride for awhile,” The Lantern reported, but the school officially adopted it in 1950 and a cartoonist then designed an emblem for the university. As you know, OSU has been the Buckeyes ever since.
Legend has it that carrying a buckeye in your pocket brings you good luck. Well, the Ohio State football team has certainly had plenty of that over the years. Maybe, the buckeye is the reason why, too.