The Panel: Ezekiel Elliott ‘at home’ on the big stage

Three days in a hospital bed, drastically reduced playing time and a loss that essentially kept his team from competing on the biggest stage in college football. Ezekiel Elliott, potential first-round draft pick out of Ohio State, experienced all of this during the span of one week.

Following the Buckeyes’ 17-14 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 21, Elliott publicly ripped the play calling. He questioned why he didn’t get the ball more as their offense struggled to move the ball in the second half.

A week after the outburst, Elliott apologized for his behavior, but he’s still answering questions about his comments months later. Elliott discusses the off-the-field incident in an episode of FOX Sports South’s The Panel with NFL veterans Dre Bly, Tim Couch and Takeo Spikes airing Sunday, March 27 at 9 p.m. ET.

"Media and other people tried to portray me as a selfish guy, a ‘me’ guy, the guy that would give up on his team," Elliot said. "We’re all competitors, that’s how our team works. We all want to be the best."

It’s that competitive nature that makes Elliott a probable candidate to be the first running back drafted in the 2016 class. Playing around NFL talent within his own team only elevated Elliott’s natural competitive personality.

"The competition I experienced at Ohio State made me the player I am today," Elliott said.

Despite the short-lived rough patch in Elliott’s final season, he finished 2015 with 1,821 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. Scouts label him as highly balanced, highly explosive and highly versatile.

His on-field accomplishments in college speak for themselves, as do his combine numbers. Those combined with his size, footwork and intuition make for a grade-A draft pick. His message to scouts mirrors that.

"I want to highlight the type of blocker I am, the type of effort I show every play. Every running back has to be a good runner, but not every guy is able to do what I’m able to do with my hands," Elliott said. "I just want to show them how important football is to me.

Those qualities helped him lead his team a win in the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game.

And the best part? He felt "at home" doing it.

"When it comes to the big stage, the thing that sets me apart is it doesn’t affect me," Elliott said. "I feel at home on the big stage."

Ezekiel Elliott grew up dreaming of the big stage — of following in his father’s footsteps and playing at the University of Missouri. But when his own recruiting process came along, his dreams shifted to a college career at Ohio State.

When he arrived on campus for a visit, Elliott said hardly knew of Coach Urban Meyer.

"I never really followed that much sports, so I didn’t really know that much about coach Meyer," Elliott said. "When I first met with him in his office, he asked me what I was going to do when he hands me a crystal ball. I told him ‘I’m gonna kiss it.’"

What’s the first thing Ezekiel Elliott did when he got his hands on that College Football Playoff trophy?

"I kissed it."

But what followed was something far greater than Elliott could have predicted.

"At our national championship celebration after the season, we had our celebration outside in the Ohio stadium. It was below freezing, and yet there were still 65,000 Buckeye fans there at our celebration," Elliott said. "It was the most memorable part of my time at Ohio State. It just kind of showed me how special of a place it is."

It’s safe to say the fans of Ezekiel Elliott’s future team have big shoes to fill.