Ohio State's Buckeye Mascot Explained

Lots of college mascots aren't particularly mysterious. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for instance, is the home of the Badgers. Everyone knows what a badger is, or a Tiger, or a Bulldog. But at Ohio State, things are a bit stranger. What, after all, is a Buckeye?

The official tree of Ohio — not to mention the origin of its common nickname, "the Buckeye State" — a buckeye is a species of tree in the soapberry family, according to Britannica. They're commonly bred as ornamental trees, because they produce lovely large flowers, but they're best recognized by their "nut" (actually, a large hard-shelled seed). These seeds are glossy brown and look like chestnuts, but with a small patch that's said to resemble the eye of a male deer — literally, a buck's eye.

Carrying a buckeye nut is supposed to bring good luck, according to the Ohio State Buckeyes website. But how did this tree become associated with the state of Ohio?

From "Hetuck" to Brutus Buckeye

According to Ohio State, the word "Buckeye" was first applied to an Ohioan in 1788, more than a decade before the midwestern area became a state. Native Americans were said to have given Colonel Ebenezer Sproat, a delegate at a Northwest Territory court session, the name of "Hetuck" — their word for "buckeye" — perhaps because he was, at 6'4", nearly as tall as a tree. It was his nickname the rest of his life, and eventually became adopted by all Ohioans. But no one better deserves the nickname more than Brutus Buckeye —  the Ohio State mascot for more than 50 years who basically resembles a humanoid buckeye nut (via Ohio State).

If you look at Ohio State helmets, you might see yet another emblem of the Buckeye tree, in the form of a sticker bearing the tree's leaf. It's awarded for meritorious on-field performance, so a helmet with a lot of stickers might belong to a particularly formidable player.