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Pat Elflein's return to Ohio State boils down to unfinished business

Pat Elflein, who will play center next season, was named a captain by the Buckeyes, Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The list of accomplishments is already long, and Pat Elflein hardly could have been blamed for taking a look at all he’s done and skipping off to the NFL.

But it turns out the checklist of what all the Ohio State offensive lineman wants to do before he leaves the program might be even longer, which is exactly why he was coming out of a team meeting Friday morning with a new position coach instead of training somewhere warm with the large group of teammates who didn’t want to stick around for another year.

Elflein was tempted by the chance to jump to the next level along with nine other Buckeyes with a national title on his resume along with two years of full-time starting experience and all-conference accolades. But as he rattled off his goals on the to-do list for a senior season in which he’s already scratched off one new item, it became increasingly clear that Elflein simply had too much unfinished business to leave Ohio State now.

“I want to graduate, I wanted to be a captain, I want to be a first-team All-American and get a tree in Buckeye Grove and I want to lead this team,” Elflein said as he inched forward intently on a bench next to Ohio State’s indoor practice field. “We have a lot of talent and we can do a lot of things this year, we can just reload. I want to lead this team, play for Ohio State for another year, play center, get experience at center so I have some versatility for the next level and I want to win the Rimington [Trophy for the nation’s best center]. So, there’s a lot of goals here still to be done, and just with the inconsistent draft information, I didn’t want to leave all that here.

“It’s already starting. I was named captain the other day, so, there’s a check. Now just keep it going.”

If the Buckeyes are going to collectively keep rolling as a national contender, Elflein is now literally and figuratively going to figure prominently right in the middle of it all thanks to his decision to return.

After submitting his paperwork seeking a grade from the NFL’s draft advisory committee and being told to come back for another season, Elflein quickly moved on from his flirtation with leaving school and became essentially the only Ohio State player with the chance to forego the rest of his eligibility to announce a return. And with a staggering nine players heading out the door, Elflein’s veteran knowledge, leadership ability and willingness to slide to center after starting for the last two seasons at guard made for an easy choice as the coaching staff installed him as one of three captains in charge of bringing along a roster loaded with talent -- and inexperience.

“Now that those other guys have graduated, we have to assume that role, the title and everything that comes with that huge responsibility,” Elflein said. “This is our team this year. J.T. [Barrett], Raekwon [McMillan] and I, this is our team and we’ve got to lead it in the right direction.

“Especially at this place, it’s an honor to be a captain at the Ohio State University. I grew up in Columbus and I never would have thought I would be a captain for the Buckeyes. It’s pretty cool. I’m living my dream.”

Elflein obviously has another one that involves playing in the NFL, and he admitted the decision to put it off for a year wasn’t easy.

But as he sat down with offensive coordinator Ed Warinner, strength coach Mickey Marotti and coach Urban Meyer to weigh the pros and cons, the goals that were still out there to turn into reality with Ohio State started to pile up. And when he picked up the phone last month to share his decision with the staff, the Buckeyes were suddenly given the license to dream a little bigger as well.

“It’s like signing a five-star recruit with three years experience,” Warinner said. “It’s just a veteran, all-American, all-Big Ten player coming back who has a lot of experience and plays a [physical] style of football, is a leader and a mature guy. What can you say about having a guy like that back?

“We’ll slot him in at center, and that will be his position next year and that will be good for our offensive line. When you have J.T. Barrett back at quarterback and Pat Elflein at center, you’ve got a pretty good starting point.”

Individually, Elflein had his own starting point this offseason, and it didn’t take long to show some progress on that to-do list.

But there’s plenty of work left to do after putting a checkmark next to "Become a Captain," which is precisely why he isn’t going anywhere.

“You know, from childhood when you’re a football player you want to play in the NFL,” Elflein said. “Watching on Sunday, all the jerseys you’d get, that’s the dream. That’s the dream.

“But the NFL will be there next year, so I’m going to live out my dream here and then go chase the other one next year.”