The High Price of Fame
Despite Current Struggles, Meyer Still Sees Bright Future for Grant
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Potential can be one lonely albatross to carry. Just ask Curtis Grant.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Ohio State’s sophomore linebacker was supposed to be, in many ways, the savior of this defense. He was supposed to be the guy Luke Fickell could count on to solidify a middle linebacker spot that went through so much flux a year ago.
He was expected to do that because, well, that’s what 5-star prospects are expected to do. Whether it’s fair or not, there is a reason Grant was rated as the No. 1 linebacker, and the No. 2 prospect overall, in the class of 2011 by Rivals.com.
It’s not just because of his NFL body, although that was certainly part of it. Grant wasn’t one of those guys who looked like Tarzan and played like Jane. He was a legitimate big-time linebacker prospect out of Hermitage High School in Richmond, Va. who totaled 134 tackles, 15 TFL and six sacks as a senior in 2010.
He was a Parade All-American and was the leading-tackler for the East squad in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl down in San Antonio, Tex. But high school fame doesn’t always translate to instant success at the next level.
Photo by Dan Harker
"To be fair to Curtis … sometimes guys go through that learning curve – whether it be the style of defense, whether it be overall system of play," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said Monday.
"But I love Curtis Grant. He's a good person and (I like) his ability."
Meyer was the one who doubled Grant’s expectations during the offseason when he said this OSU defense would only be as good as their young Mike linebacker. After all, Grant had taken nearly every snap as the first-team middle linebacker from the first day of spring camp to about the start of the regular season.
He played a little bit on defense in the opener against Miami (Ohio), but eventually found himself losing reps to Storm Klein, a senior who had been recently been reinstated to the team after missing all of fall camp.
Curtis is still trying to pick it up, OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said of the 6-3, 235-pound linebacker.
"Again, there’s a great example of a guy that’s just in his second year. He’s been here a year-and-a-half and he’s still trying to figure it out."
Grant barely saw the field as a true freshman last season, even after senior Andrew Sweat went down with concussion and elbow problems. He played a little bit on special teams, finished with two tackles in 10 games. He has just eight tackles in five games this season.
Sometimes it takes time, Fickell said.
"Etienne Sabino was a guy that played a little bit as a freshman on special teams and then his sophomore year he really didn’t play much at all. And then going into his third year, we redshirted him because he really hadn’t picked it up and wasn’t ready."
It was a tough experience for Sabino, who had to stand on the sideline as a third-year junior in 2010 and watch the Buckeyes win the Big Ten Conference for the sixth-straight time, and also the Sugar Bowl.
Sabino almost certainly could have helped them on special teams that year, but even he knows he wasn’t ready to contribute on defense when he got to Ohio State.
"It’s a lot, coming from high school you’re at a big college now and you have to balance football with school and tutoring and social (life); all these other things you’re not used to," Sabino said.
It can be a lot on your plate as a freshman.
Grant almost buckled under the weight of it all last season. He was so frustrated with his inability to grasp the defense, he considered leaving the program and walking away from the game of football altogether.
Having been a high-profile recruit himself, Sabino knows better than most just how wearisome it can be with that albatross of potential hanging around one’s neck. That’s why he’s been encouraging Grant to stay strong and keep working hard, despite his current struggles.
"I wouldn’t write him off just like that," said Sabino, who now carries the nickname ‘grandpa’ in the linebacker room.
"Curtis keeps a great attitude and is very positive. As you saw, he’s still contributing on this team. We saw him on punt block (against Michigan State), he recovered that punt for us, so he’s still very active for us."
Grant has not contributed on defense for the Buckeyes during Big Ten play. Even when Sabino went down with a broken leg, the OSU coaches turned to freshman Joshua Perry and then fullback Zach Boren before giving Grant another shot at linebacker.
"Well, I think that he’s … the honest evaluation is that he still has a ways to go, Meyer said after practice Wednesday.
"And that’s one thing I really push our coaches is to be as honest as they can. You know, don’t leave anything behind Door No. 2.
"So, the good thing is I see Curtis out there grinding and working. He knows his weaknesses and he’s trying to get better. I like his attitude. "
What it means is that his story doesn’t have to end as a tale of woe.
"I think you'll see more and more of Curtis Grant," Meyer said.
"He's only a sophomore. (He) didn't play much at all at linebacker last year. He took a little longer, but I still think Curtis Grant's got a fine career ahead of him.
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