OSU’s Landers aiming for NFL while raising mental health awareness

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — In three weeks, Robert Landers hopes he’ll hear his name called in the latter stages of the NFL Draft, or possibly get a call from an NFL team as a free agent. It would serve as the realization of a lifelong dream.

For a powerful, physical player, you’ll often see Landers smiling or laughing. He’s a playful, highly-involved father of two. He proudly wears a stylish collection of colorful, sometimes bejeweled, cowboy hats. Nothing about Landers suggests he’s struggling.

But he is. And that’s the problem with anxiety and depression. It’s an invisible opponent. Since Landers was a boy growing up in Dayton, he’s fought the monsters.

“Whatever I’m dealing with, whatever I’m struggling with, I can’t let it break me,” Landers said. “I can’t let anybody see because it’s a sign of weakness.”

When Landers was 10, his father was murdered in a shooting in Dayton. The shooter has never been caught. In an instant, Landers became the oldest man in a house with two younger brothers. And for awhile, there was no house in which to retreat starting in middle school.

“I was homeless and there were times where we were staying at friends’ houses because the lights were off or times where my mom is working the graveyard shift so I had to get my brothers up for school in the morning,” he said. “As I reflect on my life and what I went through, I realized that it all started from the time that my father passed away.”

Landers became a star football player at Huber Heights Wayne, leading the team to a state championship. He then played four seasons at Ohio State, an undersized but tough-to-block defensive tackle who made more than 60 stops in his career.

He’s now attempting to train for the NFL Draft without access to a gym or much equipment. He’s also using his platform to raise money and awareness for youth mental health concerns.

He’s organized a fundraiser called “The Big Lift,” which allows people to sponsor Landers for the number of bench press reps he can do at 225 pounds. He will then donate that money to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Behavioral Services clinic.

“Why I came out with my story is to use the Ohio State platform to talk about this taboo topic,” Landers said. “In doing so, [I] put myself in a vulnerable spot by telling my story that for the longest time I was kind of ashamed of.”

But that shame has turned to a source of pride, and his inspiring story is far from over.

You can support Landers’ efforts by visiting www.pledgeit.org/biglift.

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