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October 29, 2013

Pace ready for enshrinement

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Few players had the impact that Orlando Pace had during their playing career with the Buckeyes. Pace was a fixture on the Ohio State offensive line during the mid-1990s before going on to a 13-year career in the NFL. Pace even got some Heisman Trophy love in 1996 when he finished 4th in the balloting, the highest for a lineman since 1980.

Now, Pace is retired from the league and his great career is being put in the spotlight. He was honored Saturday night at Ohio Stadium in advance of his enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame for the class of 2013.

Pace took the field at the Horseshoe one more time during the first half of Ohio State's game against Penn State where he received a thunderous roar of applause from the more than 105,000 fans in attendance, many who likely saw Pace play in college.

"I wanted to be the best so I would go out… I just didn't want to block a guy, I wanted to destroy him," Pace said Saturday night during halftime of the game, reflecting on his collegiate career. "I just wanted to be the best at my position so people could talk about it for years to come."

The Sandusky, Ohio, native is the lofty benchmark that all future Ohio State offensive linemen get compared to. It is an unfair comparison, but there is little doubt that Pace is one of the greatest players -- regardless of position -- to ever play at Ohio State.

"Orlando Pace is not only the best offensive lineman I have ever coached, but he is the best I have ever seen," said College Football Hall of Fame inductee and former Ohio State coach John Cooper. "Every game was a highlight reel for him. We ran a lot of counter sweeps and a lot of screens, and on many of those plays Orlando had to be out in front of the ball carrier. And we had some pretty good ball carriers… I don't know how you could play the position any better than he did. He was just a fantastic football player. He was the best."

Pace is the 24th Buckeye to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and it is widely believed that the Pro Football Hall of Fame will not be too far behind.

"That has always been a goal of mine, that's why I played the game, hopefully it comes true," Pace said. "The College Football Hall of Fame was one of the goals that I set for myself and if Canton calls then I will be more than ready."

The "Pancake Man" has also remained busy as an active alum for Ohio State and recently gave a donation to the football program that was used to update the recruiting room for the football team.

"Recruiting is such a big competition and I wanted to do my part and give back," Pace said. "I was just in there (Friday) night and it is a beautiful room and I was excited and happy with what they did with it. Recruiting is a competition and once those recruits walk in that room they'll see that Ohio State is the place to be."

The recruiting arms race has taken off exponentially across the country and Pace was happy to be able to help.

"You have to keep up and compete, you have to compete with the other teams in the Big Ten and other teams in the nation," Pace added. "Everybody is updating their facilities to get the recruits in it and I am just a part of it."

Ohio State's current offensive line has received a lot of high praise through the season and while there is not one player who may have the notoriety of Pace, the big man sees a lot of greatness out of the current corps.

"Those guys, they do a great job of protecting Braxton (Miller) and they run the ball well," Pace said. "They don't get talked about a lot but those five guys up front really play well together as a unit."

Pace believes he still feels good enough that he has a little bit left in the tank.

"I was walking to the stadium and I felt like I did, I hate to say this, almost 20 years ago," Pace said as he reflected on his time in Columbus. "The fans, the electricity, everything that comes along with it, I think I can go out there and give them a series or two."

But he has no regrets about retirement and moving onto the next phase of his life and spending time with his children and enjoying retirement.

"I had a great career, not only at Ohio State but also in the NFL. 13 years in the NFL is a long time for an offensive lineman and I don't have any regrets," Pace concluded with. "I played well, I won a Super Bowl, I did all those things so I walk away smiling. People ask me if I miss it? No, I do not miss it. We had a great run but that was another part of my career."

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