|Grant is counted on heavily by No. 3 Ohio State|
|Friday, September 06, 2013 12:04 AM|
By RUSTY MILLER
COLUMBUS — Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight — and then to be overlooked.
Now that he’s finally the starting middle linebacker for the No. 3 Buckeyes, he appreciates how far he’s come from acclaimed recruit to disappointment and now back to valued veteran.
“It feels real good,” he said this week during preparations for Saturday’s game against San Diego State. “Because you know others are watching and other people are counting on you. There’s nothing like having your coaches and teammates counting on you instead of feeling like you don’t have anybody.”
He certainly knows that feeling, too.
Expectations were already high even before Grant attended his first class at Ohio State. Maybe too high.
Grant, a fast and lean player out of Richmond, Va., was baptized as a 5-star recruit and one of the top 10 high school seniors in the country. Before ever stepping on a practice field, he was compared favorably to the Buckeyes’ pantheon of great linebackers: Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, Marcus Marek, Pepper Johnson, Randy Gradishar, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and others.
Then he put on a scarlet-and-gray uniform and promptly disappointed everybody.
He didn’t play much as a freshman. He stuck around despite the NCAA investigations that led to a bowl ban and other sanctions. He considered his options, prayed, and noted he was reassured he was at the right place.
Last year he started the first three games and then lost his job to converted fullback Zach Boren, who hadn’t played the position in four years.
“I got too complacent,” Grant said last spring. “‘That’s the only thing I can say. I couldn’t handle the glory, I guess, of being a starter. I should have kept working harder.”
His coaches were certainly mystified by why he didn’t put a headlock on the position.
“An honest evaluation is that (Curtis) still has a ways to go,” coach Urban Meyer said at the time. “That’s one thing that I push our coaches real hard to be as honest as they can with them. Don’t leave anything behind Door No. 2. I see him out there grinding and working. He knows his weaknesses and he’s trying to get better.
“I like his attitude.”
Once again Grant was counted on heavily during spring workouts and earned a starting job on a unit that had only six scholarship players and almost no one with his credentials and experience.
During the very first contact work of fall camp in August, Grant sustained a concussion that set him back again.
“I came through on a blitz and whoever had the ball I just wanted to kill,” added the chiseled 6-3, 243-pounder. “That was kind of crazy on my part but at the same time you need that crazy mentality to play middle linebacker.”
It took him a while to fight off the headaches and dizziness. In due time, he regained his starting spot and had a solid game (four solos, 3 assists, a tackle for a loss) in last week’s 40-20 win over Buffalo.
Now Grant, a junior, finds himself a mainstay of linebacker corps, starting between Ryan Shazier and Josh Perry.
“The great thing about it is Curtis Grant has come a long way — and I don’t mean just what he’s done on the field but his maturity and how he prepares and things like that,” Meyer added before the opener. “I’m not worried about Curtis Grant because his passion and his energy is what’s going to show.”
Even though he lost substantial playing time when Boren was moved over to take his spot last fall, Grant gleaned something from his replacement.
“Confidence-level was my major thing I learned from Zach,” Grant added. “He didn’t care how hard a task was, he just stepped up to the plate and did what he had to do.”
After shedding all the labels and hype, Grant is doing just that to show he may be ready to finally become the player so many thought he was destined to be.
BUCKEYES BUZZ: Nine freshmen saw action in Saturday’s 40-20 win over Buffalo. Making their debut were S Vonn Bell, RB Dontre Wilson, RB Ezekiel Elliott, CB Cam Burrows, LB Trey Johnson, DT Michael Hill, WR James Clark, DE Joey Bosa and P Cameron Johnston.
During his radio show on Thursday, Meyer said he thought Bosa might have performed better than any of his classmates.
“Joey Bosa has played very well. He’s earning a lot of time in the rotation. I’m really impressed with him,” Meyer explained.
Running backs coach Stan Drayton said the big thing for all the freshmen was to get them acclimated to a big crowd on a Saturday afternoon.
“We went into the game with the mindset if we can get these freshmen in the ballgame, in the ‘Shoe, in front of 107,000 fans, we really wanted to see how they would respond to that,” he added. “You never know what you’re going to get from a true freshman in that environment.”
QUOTABLE I: San Diego State junior DL Cody Galea on what the defense has to do to rattle Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: “He’s a good quarterback but they’re all the same. If you hit them enough times they’re not going to play as well. You just have to get there.”
LOOSE BALL: The low point for Wilson was his second-period fumble.
He later came back and had a big kickoff return to set up a touchdown,but a RB putting the ball on the ground is almost unforgivable.
“Dontre was good, other than he laid (the ball) on the ground — that was terrible,” Meyer said. “He won’t play much if that happens again.”
Drayton thought Wilson might have just gotten too frantic when he fumbled.
“Yeah, that’s the word,” he said. “That kid is not afraid of anything. He is not fazed by much at all. It’s a matter of him getting in the rhythm of things and, you know, I’ll be disappointed if he’s not better this week than he was last week, and I think that will continue to progress throughout the whole entire year for that young man.”
Special teams and CBs coach Kerry Coombs was thrilled that Wilson came back with the 51-yard return to the Buffalo 37. On the very next play, Jordan Hall ran for a TD.
“It was huge. I don’t think any of us lack confidence in Dontre and I’ll be honest with you I don’t think Dontre lacks any confidence in himself,” he said. “He’s an awful lot of fun to be around. We’re going to put him in situations where the ball is in his hand in the return game.”
Hall said the staff puts a premium on hanging onto the ball.
“In the running-backs room, ball security is a core value,” Hall added. “We take that seriously. If the ball’s even outside of your body in practice, you have to do something called ‘pride drills.’ They’re not fun.”
He explained that they entailed running with footballs in each arm and then diving to the ground every 5 yards. For every time that a ball is in a position to be fumbled or knocked loose, runners have an additional 100 yards added to their total.
“And it keeps adding up the whole way through the season,” he ended.
SEEN THIS BEFORE: Buffalo ran a unique 3-3-5 defense. Amazingly, so does San Diego State.
That actually ends up being a benefit for the Buckeyes, who learned a few things last week that they can relate to Saturday.
“That definitely prepared us for this defense,” OL Marcus Hall said. “I feel like we’re better suited this week to go against it and have less mistakes.”
CONSOLING EACH OTHER: WR Chris Fields didn’t get a whole lot of playing time in his first three seasons for the Buckeyes. Neither did QB Kenny Guiton. Both went through a lot of hard times.
It’s somehow a perfect fit that they’re roommates.
“Any concerns I have, I lean on him, ask him, ‘What am I doing wrong or what should I do to be a better player?”’ Fields said. “He gives me his advice on how he feels I should be. And whenever any other questions come up or there’s anything he needs from me, I’m here for him, too.”
QUOTABLE II: San Diego State coach Rocky Long on the focus in practice this week and during the game on Saturday: “We’re back to basics. We’ve got to get better at lining up right, doing our assignment, blocking, tackling and chasing the ball. The pass protection has got to get better, we’ve got to catch more passes, we’ve got to play the right coverage, we’ve got to cover punts. I can go on and on. This is about us getting better. It has nothing to do with who we play or what time of year it is because our ultimate goal is winning the conference championship, and we’ve got to get a whole lot better to defend our (Mountain West Conference) championship.”
ALUMNI BAND: Approximately 700 members of Ohio State’s alumni band will perform on Saturday (3:30 p.m., Ohio Stadium).
This marks the 40th anniversary of women in the band, and honorees will include: Jan Duga (1976-79), the first woman to dot the “I” in Script Ohio. She will once again do the honors at halftime, on the west side Script Ohio; five female band members from 1973 — Rachel (Fauser) Berry (1973-75), Karen L. Griffith (1973-74), Susan K. Johnson (1973-77), Rebecca J. (Parker) Moughiman (1973) and Lisa B. (Bowman) Smith (1973-77) — will be recognized at the Skull Session (1:30 p.m. start) and at halftime; and Lisa Galvin (1979-83), the first female graduate assistant and music arranger for the band, will conduct the Star-Spangled Banner.