COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even after walk-on kicker Tyler Durbin set an Ohio State single-game record for PATs with 11 – in his first football game at any level, no less — head coach Urban Meyer couldn’t help but poke fun at how little he knew about his newest specialist.
“Kicker: I think you spell that K-I-C-K-E-R,” he deadpanned at his Monday press conference, where he announced Durbin as the special teams player of the week. “I love this guy, but I’m still giving him a hard time. His last name is Durbin.”
If Durbin continues to perform well enough while two-year starter Sean Nuernberger sits out with a lingering groin injury, Meyer might soon owe a press conference shoutout to Durbin’s wife, Kristin. Without her, it’s possible Ohio State wouldn’t have been able to turn to him with its starter unable to play.
The pair began dating their senior year of high school, but it was long-distance from the start. They’d known each other long before then, but Kristin went to high school in Centerville, Ohio, while Tyler went to Burke (Va.) Lake Braddock, the same high school as sophomore tight end A.J. Alexander. They chose colleges 12 hours apart, as Tyler played soccer for James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., and Kristin went to North Park University, a small Christian school in north Chicago.
“We didn’t want to hold back each other’s dreams,” Kristin said.
Tyler was a defender with a propensity for booming clearances, and both he and Kristin said they’d talked about him playing football as far back as high school, but it was never possible because of the commitment soccer required. That all changed when Tyler decided to stop playing soccer and transfer.
He put field-goal attempts on film and sent the tape to three ACC schools: Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech, all of which had a civil engineering program that met his desired standard. There was a fourth school, too. Tyler also sent his tape to Greg Gillum, who at the time handled recruiting logistics for Ohio State.
“I was mainly looking for good engineering programs and also a very good football program,” Tyler said. “Obviously, I got that (at Ohio State). As far as the reason why I wanted to come to Ohio State, my girlfriend, who is now my wife, both her parents went to Ohio State and were huge Ohio State fans, so I decided to give it a shot.”
There was no question about which school Kristin wanted to see him attend.
“Ultimately, I guess it was kind of selfish because I wanted him closer to me, but long distance is hard,” she said with a laugh. “Anything I could do to make him closer was the goal. When we first started dating, we were twelve hours apart. I graduated in three-and-a-half years, and, when he transferred, I knew we’d have to do long distance a little bit longer because I was finishing up my degree. Even to have him six hours away in Ohio and me in Chicago was better than him in Washington D.C. and me in Chicago.”
He started class on the day Ohio State defeated Oregon to win the CFP National Championship, and he spent his first season in Columbus chasing Nuernberger and walk-on Jack Willoughby. He proposed to Kristin in October 2015, and they were married in July. Shortly after, his football career began to take off.
Tyler drilled a 62-yard field goal in fall camp that resulted in the removal of his black stripe, the first real sign that he was beginning to challenge Nuernberger.
Black Stripe is removed after a 62-yard field goal today! Congrats Tyler! pic.twitter.com/5yBF751k3K
— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) August 23, 2016
Then came the news that he would be starting Ohio State’s opener against Bowling Green because of Nuernberger’s injury, leading to a nerve-racking day for both parties. Kristin said they agreed it might be easier for both of them to save all Saturday conversation for after the game.
“We had a conversation Friday night and decided we would talk after the game, which I think was a better plan for both of our nerves,” she said. “I was a mess. I was with my family and his family and, after the coin toss, people I was sitting next to asked if I was OK. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m OK, it’s just his first football game ever.’”
All he did was set the program record with 11 PATs in one game, eclipsing the previous mark of 10 set by Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz in 1950 and equaled by Devin Barclay in 2010. He even made a tackle in the fourth quarter, laying out to take down Bowling Green kick returner Scott Miller.
“It’s crazy to me,” Tyler said. None of this would have happened if God hadn’t put this opportunity in front of me, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity I’ve gotten here. It’s been the best experience in my life. I don’t really know how all this happened.”
It might not have happened were it not for the suggestion of his then-girlfriend.
“He wanted to transfer and I was like, ‘Well, you should go to Ohio State,'” Kristin said. “Our whole relationship was a long-distance relationship, so to get him in the same state as me was really the ultimate goal. So that’s why I was pushing for Ohio State. It just ultimately worked out.”
When it comes to Ohio State’s K-I-C-K-E-R, there might be nobody more deserving of thanks than K-R-I-S-T-I-N.