COLUMBUS, Ohio – A familiar stab of pain hit Tyler Moeller while he was putting on his uniform before No. 2 Ohio State's game at Illinois on Saturday.
Later on the field, the defensive back felt a muscle in his chest tear away from the bone.
He knew immediately what it was. He also knew that it might be the sound of his college career coming to a close.
Even though he missed all of last year because of a severe brain injury, and even though he lives to play football, Moeller is trying to look at his latest season-ending injury as an opportunity.
"I'm not looking it as being bummed out," the fifth-year senior from Cincinnati said. "I'm looking at taking advantage of a situation and keeping my head up."
Losing Moeller is a big setback for the Buckeyes. He was fourth on the team with 20 tackles — even though he was hurt early in the Illinois game and didn't have a tackle. Moeller led the squad with 4.5 tackles for minus yardage to go with a sack and an interception.
His replacement at the "star" position — part nickel back, part a melding of defensive back and linebacker — will be true freshman Christian Bryant who had just one collegiate tackle until taking over for Moeller last week.
With the Buckeyes playing an Indiana team on Saturday that threw 64 times last week in a loss to Michigan, everyone is aware of what's at stake with Bryant back there.
"Huge. Huge," coach Jim Tressel said of how important the nickel spot might be against Hoosiers quarterback Ben Chappell. "While (Bryant) got a good baptism Saturday, he's going to get immersed."
It was just another disappointment for Moeller.
"I've been through worse before," he said.
He was primed to start at safety or at least be the fifth defensive back coming out of spring workouts in 2009. But while on vacation in Florida with his family that summer, he was sucker-punched in a bar. He hit his head on the floor, suffering a fractured skull and brain injuries.
After a lengthy hospital stay which included surgery to release the pressure on the brain, he was told by at least one doctor that he would never play football again. Suffering from headaches and short-term memory loss, he was able to return to classes at Ohio State. Slowly his symptoms went away and he improved enough that doctors allowed him to participate in non-contact spring drills. He was cleared this summer to return to the team — and was one of the bright spots of the first four games.
Then he met his latest setback, which had been a problem for years.
"I don't know if you guys remember two years back when I played against Illinois," he said earlier this week. "I had a great game. I was wearing a strap on my chest. It was the same injury. I hurt it that summer and I played the whole season with it. It kept tearing and tearing. ... I partially tore my chest 10, 12 times since I first did it 2½ years ago. I don't think anyone ever knew that but I've been using my right arm to hit and get off blocks."
He said he didn't need medical personnel to tell him what had happened.
"I knew exactly what it was. I felt a tear before, and this was just a bigger tear," he said. He'll now undergo surgery to repair the muscle.
His teammates were more upset for him than he was for himself.
"It's really sad," defensive lineman Dexter Larimore said. "It's something that you really cringe to see because of what happened to him last year."
Tressel said Ohio State would immediately appeal to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility for Moeller. The coach sounded optimistic. But Moeller took a redshirt in 2006 before his two injuries.
Moeller said he'll try to make the best of a bad situation.
"Now I'll help Christian out," he said. "I'm still trying to get back to where I was before the incident last year. You take this as a blessing. I have to get my chest (fixed). If I try to go to the next level and they look at my chest and I can't bench-press and stuff, who'd really take me? So if I can get my chest back and get my legs under me and get them stronger, then maybe hopefully get another year and be back here better than ever."
But even he acknowledged that might not happen.
"I'm not very confident (although) I'm hoping there'll be a next year," he said.
Then he smiled and added, "I don't see how you can look at everything that's happened to me and couldn't give me another year."