COLUMBUS, Ohio -- More than a week after his college career prematurely came to an end in Madison, Wis., Ohio State defensive end John Simon was honored by the conference that he spent four seasons terrorizing backfields in, being named the Big Ten's Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year on Tuesday.
A first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the conference's coaches and media and the Big Ten's Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year, Simon led the conference in sacks in 2012 with nine, while ranking third in tackles for loss with 14.5. The Youngstown, Ohio native will leave Ohio State ranking seventh in career totals for both categories. He is the first OSU player to win the award since linebacker James Laurinaitis won it in 2008.
"It means a lot to win this award," Simon said. "It is truly a great honor, but first and foremost it is a team award. I wouldn't be given this award if it weren't for the great play of my teammates."
Dubbed the "heart and soul" of the Buckeyes by head coach Urban Meyer, Simon was unable to play in the Buckeyes' season finale against Michigan due to a knee injury, missing the 26-21 OSU win that clinched a perfect season for the 12-0 Buckeyes. Saturday marked just the second game that Simon missed in his four-year college career, and the first since his freshman season in 2009.
"It was extremely tough to have to stay on the sidelines that last game and to watch your family go out there and play," Simon said. "But they stepped up and got the win and I've never been more proud of a group of guys in all my life."
Following the game, Ohio State players said that they had dedicated their efforts against the Wolverines to the two-time captain, but perhaps nobody in the Buckeyes' locker room thinks more of Simon than Meyer. The first-year OSU head coach has constantly praised both the in-game efforts and off the field leadership of the 6-foot-2, 263-pound lineman, even once joking that he wanted to name his unborn son after him.
"I think everyone knows how highly I think of John Simon," Meyer said. "He is absolutely one of the finest young men I have had the privilege to coach. His determination and effort and selfless approach are second to none, and there is no better player or person to be honored with this player of the year award."
In the final game of his college career against Wisconsin on Nov. 17, Simon tied OSU's single game sack record with four, en route to winning one of his two Big Ten defensive player of the week awards this season. Always selfless in interviews, Simon was reluctant to accept any praise that was thrown his way for the stellar performance.
"Well it helped us get the win," Simon said. "So whatever I can do."
Even with the OSU defensive line projected to be one of the Buckeyes' deeper units next season, Meyer admitted he is concerned about how his team will replace Simon, not only as a player, but as a leader as well.
"The line, I think there's some good young players," Meyer said. "But I worry about losing a guy like John Simon and what he means to this program."