“Every Picture Tells A Story” was a popular Rod Stewart song a long time back and it’s certainly a truism today.
In fact, in this case it tells two stories – one of Muhammad Ali and other of Ryan Shazier.
The picture is the iconic 1965 photo that captured heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali’s quick knockout of Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine.
In it the white-trunked Ali is glowering down at the flattened Liston, who is lying on his back in full surrender, one knee slightly bent, his gloved fists upturned and about to melt onto the canvas. As Leifer was about to freeze that moment for eternity, Ali yelled at Liston: “Get up and fight, sucker!” and that further sealed his image as a brash conqueror, who, in his words – and later ours – would be forever known as “The Greatest.”
Earlier this week, Shazier showed up at the Ohio State’s first game-week press conference of the season wearing a t-shirt that had the fabled photo of Ali on the front. The Buckeyes’ heralded junior linebacker hadn’t just thrown on the first shirt he pulled from the drawer that morning. He had picked it out on purpose.
He said it was his father – Vernon Shazier, a Florida preacher and fight fan – who introduced him to Ali: “I’m really close to my father and he’s a big Ali fan and he got me to watch some of the fight movies… I’ve got a lot of posters of Ali in my house and I look at him a lot.
“Ali was one of the greatest of all time and my goal is to be one of the greatest of all time.“
While it’s good to set lofty goals, OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has tried to keep Shazier from punching himself out with over-drawn expectation and self-imposed pressure.
“Sometimes you go into your junior year and you put a lot of pressure on yourself…and that becomes a problem,” Fickell said. “We already have a lot of pressure on these guys and then you put it on yourself, whether it’s from home, friends, wherever. The reality is we need you to play within the framework of the defense, be really, really good at whatever it is that you do and the rest will handle itself. Hopefully, he’s gotten back to that a little bit.
“He’s become what I like to say is ‘a linebacker.’ You see him making linebacker plays instead of just highlight-reel plays that he can make.”
That Shazier needed a bit of refocusing this preseason is not surprising.
He is the only returning starter among OSU’s defense’s front seven and after last season so much is expected of him.
A first team All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore, he led the conference in tackles for a loss and was the league’s second leading tackler overall. He had five sacks, three forced fumbles and changed the momentum of the Penn State game when he returned an interception 17 yards for a score. Just as impressive was his herculean stop of Wisconsin back Montee Ball at the goal line.
Sports Illustrated has picked Shazier and OSU cornerback Bradley Robey as preseason first-team All Americans. In a poll of the Big Ten media by The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, Shazier was named the conference’s preseason defensive player of the year. As the Bucks go in Saturday’s opener with Buffalo at Ohio Stadium, the 6-foot-2, 222-pound outside linebacker is on the watch lists for the Nagurski, Lombardi and Butkus awards.
Around Columbus folks are already clearing space for him in the pantheon of great OSU linebackers – guys like Spielman, Katzenmoyer, Cousineau, Hawk, Brudzinski and Gradishar – that has produced 12 All-Americans, eight first-round NFL picks, two Butkus and two Lombardi winners.
With John Simon – the heart and soul of OSU’s defense graduated and in the NFL – and Roby suspended for the season opener, Shazier has become the face of the OSU defense.
Fickell and others though noticed a little tightness in the countenance at times this preseason and have worked to get Shazier back in sync. They didn’t want him to revert to early days at OSU when he was so amped on the field that he over ran plays.
“I’ve been talking to the coaches a lot more lately and I feel like I’m calming down and relieving myself from all that stress,” Shazier said. “It wasn’t just about me leading, it was about me trying to be something (more). They let me know I just need to focus on getting the team better. And I feel like I’ve been playing a lot better the last few weeks.”
Under his refocused leadership, Shazier thinks the defense may be better than the unit that helped the Bucks finish 12-0 last year: “I think we’ll be a lot quicker, faster and really aggressive.”
Even though OSU is ranked No. 2 in most preseason polls, Shazier said the team still feels some folks aren’t giving the Bucks their due because last season’s sanctions kept them from showing themselves in the post-season.
“We still have a chip on our shoulder because we still have a lot to prove,” he said. “Some people don’t feel we’re worthy to be where we are now. But we’ll be playing to be the best in the Big Ten and we’ll be fighting for the championship in November.”
And so he might want to keep that Ali t-shirt handy as a reminder that every picture does tell a story… or two.