Ohio State football's 'Boom' Herron overcame scandal. Now he's adjusting to 'regular' life

If Dan "Boom" Herron's journey is a microcosm for those of other high-profile athletes, here's a truth revealed: Sports stardom isn't all glitz and glamour.
Herron carried star status in Columbus during the 2008-2011 college football seasons. He amassed more than 3,000 scrimmage yards and more than 30 touchdowns as an Ohio State running back and was named a team captain as a senior. He then went on to play in the NFL for five years, including a day when he ran for 141 yards and a score in a 2015 playoff win for the Indianapolis Colts.
He also found himself at the center of the "Tattoogate" scandal, and he has suffered the physical and emotional consequences of having played a violent game for over 20 years.
Nowadays, the 34-year-old is happily engaged and living in Detroit. But his journey to a life of fatherhood, entrepreneurship, podcasting and guest speaking was not always sailed smoothly.
Boom Herron endured Tattoogate at Ohio State
Herron didn't have a hard time adjusting to college football. He backed up Chris "Beanie" Wells as a freshman and made the most of his limited opportunities, rushing for 439 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries.
College life was a different story. The Warren native was a bit overwhelmed by Columbus' city vibe.
"It was definitely a shocker for me," he said. "I mean, Ohio State's campus is bigger than my whole hometown."
Ironically, the guy who was limiting Herron's snaps on the field was the one most nurturing off of it.
"I struggled my freshman year, just adjusting to living in the big city, being around a lot of different people," he said. "But I always credit my best friend, Beanie Wells, because he helped me along the way."
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By late in his junior year, Herron had long been well settled in Columbus. He eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards on the season, and the Buckeyes were about two weeks from a Sugar Bowl date with Arkansas.
Then came Dec. 21, 2010.
On a day that lies in Buckeye infamy, the NCAA told Ohio State that Herron and four teammates would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season after investigators concluded that the players had sold signed memorabilia to a tattoo parlor owner. (This was years before the NIL era began.) Months later, longtime coach Jim Tressel resigned in wake of the scandal.
Herron said the way that he and the other four players, dubbed the "Tattoo Five," were viewed by program outsiders instantly changed.
"We were kind of looked down at, almost like criminals," he said.
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The NCAA tacked on an additional one-game suspension to Herron's initial five-gamer after he was found to have been overpaid for a summer job by a program booster. The start of his senior season would be delayed until mid-October.
As frustrating as the suspension was, Herron didn't let it hinder his devotion to the program. While ineligible, he still grinded as if he were going to suit up on Saturdays.
"He always showed up for work during the week," former Ohio State fullback Zach Boren said in a 2011 interview. "He always was out there leading us in practice, trying to help us get better."
And when Herron was finally eligible to play again, he was ready, amassing 114 rushing yards and a touchdown in an Oct. 15 victory over Illinois.
The road win against the Fighting Illini marked the beginning of what would become an impressive half-season campaign for Herron. He rushed for 675 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
Despite the late start, Herron was named the Buckeyes' most valuable player by team vote. Former coach Luke Fickell said after the season that Herron was "an unbelievable example of how to handle adverse situations on and off the field."
Ohio State football's Boom Herron is eternally banged up
The emotional obstacles that "Tattoogate" presented didn't stop Herron from reaching the professional ranks. He was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
"A dream come true for me and my family," he said, in retrospect. "It definitely changed our lives and changed my life in a great way."
But by continuing his football career, Herron was signing up for more physical wreckage, which he still feels the effects of today.
The term "bruising" is often used in football rhetoric to describe north-south runners like Herron. Effective as the play style was, it left him with wounds much more enduring than bruises.
"I mean, obviously, playing running back, you're getting hit," he said. "Everybody's targeting you. And you can't forget about even just hitting the ground, period. A lot of people fall and they're down for weeks or months. I did that to my body for 20-plus years."
Most notable of Herron's bodily tribulations is a head injury history that was only partially documented.
"I probably had more concussions than people may know, and what people don't know is that (concussions are) a struggle mentally and physically," he said. "There were games where my eyesight would get blurry."
For Herron, tending to ailing body parts came secondary to doing his job.
"When you're playing in the NFL, that's your life," he said. "I would push through pain."
The accumulation of blows still taxes him. When asked which specific body parts give him the most grief now, he laughs, not sure of where to start.
"Oh, man," he said. "My body's pretty beat up."
More than a half-decade removed from his playing days, Herron has accepted physical anguish as a routine part of life.
"I try to take care of my body as best as I can, even though I struggle daily with things," he said. "But I'm working through it, and it's just a thing I have to live with now."
Boom Herron on becoming 'a regular human being' again
Herron analogizes football players to superheroes because of the almost supranatural mentalities that players develop. When it was time to hang up the spikes in 2016, he realized that it was also time to hang up the metaphorical cape.
"When you're done playing, you have to really focus on getting yourself together," Herron said. "When you're playing, you're that tough guy, that strong guy, mentally and physically. Sometimes you forget how to be just a regular human being. It's OK to be soft. It's OK to be hurt. It's OK to cry."
Herron credits his support circle for aiding him in his post-career mentality adjustment.
"A lot of guys, when they're done playing, you see them struggle," he said. "You see a lot of guys get addicted to alcohol or drugs. The best thing you can do is have a great circle of people around you."
Herron sees a therapist every other week to keep him in check.
"I have my struggles," he said. "I still get the help that I need to get, because without that I probably wouldn't be in such a great place."
Herron's circle consists of friends and family, notably his fiancée, Raechel Conyers, and his 15-month-old son Daniel, nicknamed "B.J.," short for "Boom Junior." To this day, some of his closest companions are guys he played with at Ohio State.
"The relationships and connections that I've built with my teammates and coaches, they're lifelong," he said. "We all lean on each other, and we’re always checking on each other, making sure everybody’s good."
After all, the dark days of "Tattogate" don't diminish Herron's appreciation for his alma mater.
"It's all love with Ohio State," he said. "I support Ohio State. I represent Ohio State."
Herron has tried a lot of new things since retiring from football. He's dabbled in the trucking business and invested in restaurants as an entrepreneur, and he plans to get into real estate at some point. He also hosts a podcast called "The BOOM Cast," on which he's chatted with fellow Ohio State greats such as Cardale Jones, DeVier Posey and, of course, his best friend Wells. Through the The BOOM Cast, he aims to humanize people otherwise really known only for their on-field accomplishments.
"I just like to get guys' stories out there, so people can know them outside of football," he said. "We're all human, and we all have a lot of things going on."

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