CINCINNATI (WCMH) — Ohio State will be well represented when the Cincinnati Bengals face off against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Three starters on Cincinnati’s defense played at Ohio State: safety Vonn Bell, defensive end Sam Hubbard and cornerback Eli Apple.

Quarterback Joe Burrow also spent three years with Ohio State before transferring to LSU, where he won a national championship in 2021.

Sam Hubbard: The hometown kid

Cincinnati native Sam Hubbard was drafted by the Bengals out of Ohio State in the third round of the 2018 draft and recorded six sacks as a rookie. One of seven Bengals captains, Hubbard has been a full-time starter since 2019 and during that season, he recorded 8.5 sacks. Hubbard took a bit of a dip last season, with only two sacks in 13 games, but his three years of work warranted a four-year, $40 million contract extension.

“These guys that are here today have been through so much,” defensive end Sam Hubbard said. “Throughout the losing seasons we all treated each other with respect and did things the right way all trusting that one day we’d get this breakthrough season and never looked back and to have it happen is special for all of us.”

Hubbard struggles at times to get to the quarterback, which is why the Bengals signed Trey Hendrickson from New Orleans in the offseason to a four-year, $60 million deal. He proved to be worth it, totaling a team-high 14 sacks in the regular season, and earned a spot in the Pro Bowl.

But what Hubbard lacks as a pass rusher he makes up for as a run stopper as he helped the Bengals become a top-five run defense in the NFL.

Vonn Bell: The veteran

Buckeyes fans might remember Vonn Bell for his role on Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team. As a sophomore in 2014, Bell started 14 games and recorded 92 tackles (second on team). He followed that up with a solid junior year in which he was named a first-team All American and named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe award.

Bell was drafted in the second round by the Saints in 2016 but was not re-signed after his rookie deal ended, allowing the Bengals to bring him in as an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

The sixth-year safety is the most experienced player on Cincinnati’s defense with 93 games played. Only two other Bengals starters on defense, Eli Apple and D.J. Reader, have the same amount of years in the NFL (six), but Bell has played 12 more games than Reader and 20 more than Apple.

Bell is in the second of his three-year contract and is earning $4.1 million this season. But he’s been worth much more as a veteran on a young defense and has been reminding the unit to live in the present throughout the playoffs.

“We can only stay here in the now and that’s what I tell the guys,” Bell said. “It takes years to get to this moment. Some people don’t get to it at all in their career. I have friends that have never been to this moment and man we’ve got to cherish the moment and really relish this.”

Eli Apple: The castaway troll

The biggest surprise success story of the Bengals defense has been the career resurrection of Eli Apple. The former Buckeye and 10th overall pick was traded by the Giants to the Saints but was not re-signed after the 2019 season. He was signed by the Panthers in 2020 but only played two games and was cut after the season.

The Bengals took a chance bringing Apple aboard after William Jackson III left for the Washington Football Team. Apple’s signing appeared unsuccessful after plenty of early-season struggles. But the Bengals stuck with him and following the bye week, Apple became Pro Football Focus’ second-highest rated cornerback during a five-week stretch from Nov. 21 to Dec. 19.

He’s still a below-average cover corner, according to Pro Football Focus metrics (61.0 overall grade), and has cost the Bengals with a few untimely pass interference calls. But Apple did make one of the biggest plays of the game in Cincinnati’s win last week over the Tennessee Titans.

Tennessee had the ball with 30 seconds left when Apple broke up Ryan Tannehill’s pass, which fell into the arms of Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson to set up the winning drive. The win unleased Apple’s inner troll as he took to Twitter in a no-holds-barred diatribe against everyone and everything.

Markus Bailey: The Pride of Hilliard Davidson

One of the Cincinnati’s linebackers, Markus Bailey, has central Ohio ties as a graduate from Hilliard Davidson. Bailey wasn’t drafted until the seventh round in 2020 out of Purdue and played a limited role this season until starting middle linebacker Logan Wilson suffered a shoulder injury in week 13.

Bailey started at linebacker until Wilson returned in week 17 against the Chiefs but was needed once more when the Bengals other starting linebacker, Germaine Pratt, was ruled out for the game due to COVID-19 protocols.

Bailey has only seen 11 snaps in the playoffs but made one of the biggest plays of the game last week against the Titans when he and Wilson tackled Tennessee running back Derrick Henry for a loss on fourth-and-1 at the Bengals’ 35-yard line with seven minutes left and the score tied 16-16.