No Longer Middling, the Time is Now for Curtis Grant
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When linebacker Curtis Grant signed with Ohio State prior to last season, he brought with him high school accolades that few others have ever attained.
Photo by Dan Harker
For instance, as Rivals' number two player overall in the 2011 class, he was the second-highest ranked linebacker in the recruiting service's history, only behind Ernie Sims in 2003.
In other words, Grant brought with him more expectations than he seemingly ever could have met.
Making an impact as a freshman linebacker at a major university is not an easy thing to do, but that didn't stop fans from thinking that the Buckeyes had landed another Andy Katzenmoyer. Many expected a guy who just gets plugged into the lineup and explodes upon the scene like he was following some sort of script.
That never happened for Grant last season, and there were plenty of people asking why.
By his own admission last year, he struggled in picking up the various schemes. Football had always come easy to him before last year, and the reality of college football hit him hard.
"He kind of overanalyzed everything a year ago," Urban Meyer said last week. "He didn't play very fast. I don't want to say 'depressed', but he wasn't enjoying football. And when you're not very confident, you're not playing fast, and that's it."
If it can't be classified as a surprise, then it was certainly notable that Grant was working with the first team at middle linebacker when Spring practice opened. With incumbent Storm Klein returning, it wasn't clear where Grant would fit in. Apparently, however, the fog is starting to lift for everyone in that regard.
"All freshmen, they grow at certain tempos," said co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. "I think he's getting better each day. Each day he's out there on the field is going to be a day for him to improve. I think it helps a lot any time you can come into a brand new situation and hit restart, and I think that's what he's done."
"He's getting a lot better," fifth-year linebacker Etienne Sabino agreed. "It's crazy how good he gets day to day, and how he keeps improving. I'm excited to see what he can do."
"Excited to see what Grant can do" would probably describe the majority of Buckeye Nation. Middle linebacker at Ohio State is one of the most prestigious positions in all of college sports, and the starters in the middle over the years can be recited like the U.S. Presidents.
Rarely, however, is that starter a true sophomore. In fact, the last sophomore starter at middle linebacker for the Buckeyes happened to be three-time All American James Laurinaitis.
The list of sophomore starters on the inside for the Buckeyes is one of the most ridiculous lists in sports. Don't believe it? Over the last 40 years, here are the sophomores to start at middle or inside linebacker for Ohio State: James Laurinaitis, Matt Wilhelm, Andy Katzenmoyer, Lorenzo Styles, Steve Tovar, Judah Herman, Chris Spielman, Marcus Marek, Glen Cobb, Alvin Washington, Tom Cousineau and Randy Gradishar.
Everybody on that list except for Washington, Cobb and Herman was a multi-time All Big Ten performer, and all Washington and Cobb did was end their careers as the second and fifth-leading tacklers in Ohio State history, respectively.
Those three players, as well as Lorenzo Styles, were the only players on the list to not be named First Team AP All-Americans, and Styles likely would have been added to that list had he not chosen to forgo his senior season and head to the NFL.
It's safe to say that if Grant is already being penciled in as a number one, then expectations are very high for him.
"He looks like what they should look like in college football, and at that next level," Withers said. "I think if you can find guys like him that can grow with the scheme and understanding the speed of the game, then it's all ahead for him."
"He's a big, big physical kid," Sabino explained. "He can run pretty well for his size. When you have that combination, it's going to be tough for offenses to scheme him up and block him."
But those expectations also need to be tempered because Grant is still young and still learning. Prior to last season, Grant was simply able to go out and dominate opponents because he was bigger and faster than they were. That isn't necessarily the case any longer, but Luke Fickell is still liking what he's seeing.
"The best thing that I can say about him is he wants to improve. He's acting like a professional in a lot of the things we ask him to do. He's studying. Now it's just got to translate onto the field. I think he's building some confidence to allow that to happen."
For Grant, confidence was something that he was sorely missing last year, and now it is something that he is gaining every day. But he didn't just have to get his mind right, he also had to get his body right.
"He's trimmed down and wants to play linebacker," Fickell said. "We need him to play linebacker. I think it's showing in everything that he does—the way he studies, the way he takes care of his body."
Clearly, Grant is taking his job more seriously, and his coaches are responding in kind. They are putting a lot of faith in him to come through for them, and putting quite a bit of pressure on him as well.
"He had an excellent offseason, so he's a guy that has to develop," Meyer said. "We have no choice. He has to be a player for us. If he's not, we've got problems."
Those problems that Meyer speaks of won't be settled for at least five or six more months. However, if history is any indication, the sophomore Grant and the Buckeyes should be just fine.
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