Robert Landers is a man comfortable in his own skin.
The Wayne High School graduate and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle for the Ohio State Buckeyes often sports a crop top in practice that would make Ezekiel Elliott proud. Not many guys who are 6-foot-1 and 283 pounds would dare trying to pull off that look.
“You’ve got to be proud of what you’ve got,” Landers said Monday. “I love my body. If nobody loves me, I love me. That’s all that matters.”
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Ohio State fans got to know Landers last season when he was one of the surprise standouts on a deep defensive line. The rest of the college football world learned of him Thursday night during Ohio State’s 49-21 season-opening victory over Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind.
Fans laughed at his “fat guy touchdown.” Landers laughed right with them, even if his first reaction was disappointment. Officials overturned the fumble by quarterback Richard Lagow on review, ruling his arm was moving forward when he lost the ball and negating the 35-yard return by Landers.
“I was heartbroken,” Landers said. “That’s every fat boy’s dream. One thing, too, people who call me fat on Twitter … I’m not fat. I’m just a little thick around the edges. Let’s get that out there now. In my book, it still counts. I’m not even paying attention to them calling it back. It’s a moment I’ll never forget whether it counts or not.”
Even if he didn’t get the six points, Landers put himself in the running for the Piesman Trophy. He didn’t know such a thing exists until asked about it Monday. The award honors “linemen who do decidedly un-linemen things.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Landers has found the end zone. In 2014, as a senior at Wayne, he returned a fumble 10 yards for a touchdown against Lakewood St. Edward in the state championship game. In 2013, he scored on a 15-yard fumble return against Trotwood-Madison.
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Neither of those plays match the one he made against the Hoosiers. Landers spent the last 10 yards of the run battling Indiana wide receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr., who tried to strip the ball instead of going for the tackle. When Cobbs finally brought Landers down in the end zone, Landers landed on his head but bounced up to celebrate with his teammates.
Wayne grad Landers making most of his opportunities with Buckeyes https://t.co/2X5tMdjgoO— Marcus Hartman (@marcushartman) September 4, 2017
Landers’ own teammates on the line laughed at the sight of him barreling his way to the end zone. Tyquan Lewis said after the game it was the funniest thing he’s ever seen on a football field. On Monday, Jalyn Holmes called it a comedy show.
“When he did it, in my head, I was like, ‘He did it in high school a lot,’” Holmes said. “It’s not surprising. It’s just surprising he held onto the ball.”
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Landers didn’t have time to laugh. The touchdown would have given Ohio State a 26-14 lead. They needed the points at the time and even more so minutes later when Indiana moved back in front 21-20.
“I was just trying to score,” Landers said. “All of them can laugh. I was just happy. I loved it.”
Landers didn’t get in the box score with a tackle in the opener but said he saw action on 26 plays. The Buckeyes moved defensive linemen in and out on almost every play. The rotation is one reason Landers had the stamina to sprint to the end zone.
“Everybody on our D-line has outrageous speed,” Landers said. “We’re all strong. We’re all athletic. With us rotating like that, you never see our D-line get worn down.”