Former Ohio State football star Anthony Gonzalez is FIRED UP for the Big Ten's return to the gridiron ... telling TMZ Sports another year of the sport could change kids' lives!!
The ex-Buckeye -- who became a congressman after a successful NFL career -- told us out on Capitol Hill in D.C. on Wednesday he couldn't imagine where he would be today if something had canceled his last year of the sport.
"I'm thrilled for the players, honestly," Gonzalez said. "Look, my last year at Ohio State, honestly, it changed my life."
Gonzalez played three seasons at OSU from 2004 through 2006 ... and used a big final season on campus to become an eventual first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
Gonzalez says without that last year ... he might not have had an awesome pro football career -- let alone be a congressman now.
Anthony says the fact that the Big Ten is now allowing its players to have the opportunity to follow down a similar path really brings a smile to his face.
"We've got a lot of kids who are going to get an opportunity to live out their dream," Gonzalez said.
The conference announced Wednesday it's officially targeting Oct. 24 for its opening weekend of games.