April 25, 2002 at 8:14 PM EST - Updated July 28 at 4:00 PM
By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Having turned his back on jumping to the NFL a year early, All-American strong safety Mike Doss said he is ready for "the last time I'm going to work for free."
Doss announced in January that he would return to Ohio State for his senior season. The 5-foot-11, 204-pounder did a poor job of fighting back tears during the news conference, blubbering to the point where his words were hard to understand.
"I knew I could play at the highest level of competition," he said at the time. "But at the same time I had to think about staying in school and getting an education and worrying about my future."
Doss' name would undoubtedly have come up during Saturday's first round of the NFL draft. Instead of sitting around thinking about what might have been, however, he spent the day hanging out with fullback Jamar Martin and celebrating with his friend when he was chosen in the fourth round by Dallas.
The experience gave Doss a taste of what it'll be like for him a year from now.
"I'm looking forward to finishing up this season and next year having my family over to the house and enjoying the festivities," Doss said, squinting through the glasses he always wears when he's not on the field.
First, however, there is that pesky final season. Sometimes those who elect to remain in school watch their stock fall. Prime examples this season in Big Ten basketball include Iowa's Reggie Evans and Illinois' Frank Williams, both of whom had disappointing seasons after choosing to stay at their schools.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he has seen no such lack of commitment or focus from Doss.
"I've seen no evidence of it," Tressel said.
"I don't think there's anybody who's been at practice saying that Mike Doss has kind of half-stepped it," he added. "He's been on special teams, he worked hard on the defensive side. He bugs me every day to play on offense. He's the last one out of the locker room, the first one in the weight room."
Doss had 87 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries last season. In 2000, he had a team-high 94 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Linebacker Matt Wilhelm said Doss' return makes everyone on the defensive side more effective.
"It puts a little fear into the offenses we play, because every coach that upcoming week is going to talk about Mike Doss and tell his players to know where he's at all the time," Wilhelm said.
Most people -- even his coaches -- thought Doss would likely take the money and run to the pros. Ohio State defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio said he was thrilled when he heard that Doss was coming back.
"I was excited for two reasons," Dantonio said. "One, I thought it sent a message to our program that it's OK to stay another year. He set a precedent when he did that: to get his education, to stay and win a championship, to try to better himself as a player. And, two, because you automatically have a guy who's not only a starter who you thought might possibly leave, but you've got an All-American coming back."
For his part, Doss said he will be ready when the time does comes to go pro.
"This is the last time I'm going to work for free," he said. "I'm going to have a lot of fun right now, enjoying my teammates and looking forward to the season."
Doss went to pieces during his January news conference when he spoke about his mother struggling to make ends meet in her two-bedroom apartment in Canton. Despite that, he said he hasn't spent any time wistfully thinking about how much money might be in his checkbook had he taken the plunge.
"You can't miss what you never had," he said. "I'm not going on spending sprees or living it up. You know what I'm saying? You never had a chance to do that before, so I won't know exactly how to do it until the time comes."
Doss, one of the hardest hitters in the college game, won't say whether he has taken out insurance to cover himself in case of a career-threatening injury.
Regardless, Tressel said he won't try to rein in Doss to avoid major collisions.
"He's a good, clean, hard-hitting kid," Tressel said. "As soon as you let up, there's a little bit of a problem. I've seen more people get banged up then."
Doss continues to ask Tressel if he can return punts, catch passes or run the ball on a reverse. He wants to add to his resume, proving that he can also play offense.
Tressel hasn't ruled it out.
"He's an explosive guy," Tressel said. "There's a place for that."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)