August 17, 2012

Grant ready to emerge in sophomore season

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Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Curtis Grant just wasn't ready for his freshman season of college football.

That's not my personal opinion. It's his.

Grant came to Ohio State in the fall of 2011 as the No. 2 overall rated recruit in the country. With two starting spots open for the Buckeyes at linebacker, the Richmond, Va. native had visions of starting his college career by playing right away in Columbus. But by the end of his freshman season, the only significant playing time that Grant saw came on special teams.

"A year ago I just came in wanting to earn a spot like any other kid, but I didn't show it," Grant said. "I talked about it but I didn't show it."

With classmate Ryan Shazier earning the playing time that Grant expected to see, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker found himself far from the place that he imagined himself being when he committed to the Buckeyes on signing day of 2011.

But with a new coaching staff came a fresh start for Grant, and first-year Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer's philosophy is one that the linebacker has seemed to gravitate to.

"Coach Meyer brings out a different beast in everybody," Grant said. "He makes everything so competitive, you have to compete."

It didn't take long for Grant to take advantage of the new competitive nature of the Ohio State program. By the end of Meyer's first spring practice in Columbus, Grant found himself overtaking senior Storm Klein for the right to start at middle linebacker for the Buckeyes heading into 2012 fall camp.

Grant attributed his new status as a starter to the work that he's put in both on and off the field in the offseason.

"Stay in my playbook. Get done what I'm supposed to," Grant said. "It's kind of like
I'm an old head compared to the new guys coming in 'cause these guys don't know what's going on."

Starting at linebacker as a sophomore for Ohio State seems to have worked out for some recent Buckeyes. Both A.J. Hawk and James Laurinaitis had breakout seasons at Ohio State as sophomores, and Grant said that the latter has taken him under his wing during recent visits to Columbus.

"I like Laurinaitis. I watch him a lot and when he comes back I talk to
him, try to learn from him, Grant said. "I'm kind of in same position he was in when he was a sophomore. He talks to me about being a leader. You can't act like you're a sophomore, step up."

The Buckeyes' new starting middle linebacker said that he's not thinking as much as he did as freshman and is reacting with the instincts that made him one of the nation's most heralded recruits in 2011. But while he's made great strides physically, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickel said that the biggest adjustment he'll have to overcome is mental.

"If you're going to be in there, especially as the inside back is a leadership role. That's the thing you have to do," Fickell said. "You have to have confidence in what you're doing. Sometimes I think that was our biggest problem last year defensively was we just didn't have somebody that could get the things set."

Perhaps there's no player on the defensive side of the ball more fit to be a leader than Grant. While players like John Simon and C.J. Barnett played right away in their college careers, Grant knows that there can be a downside to a player's freshman season of football as well.

"It was a good experience and it's a good story to tell the freshmen too so they don't make the same mistakes I did," Grant said. "I've told them that. A lot. Start fast. You can't come out here thinking. Everybody's big strong and fast and you'll get knocked out, basically. Just come out and have a good time. We'll go over the playbook later."

Now that Grant has rediscovered his physical tools and combined them with the new leadership role that he's embraced, Buckeye fans will have to wait until Sept. 1 to see what kind of player they'll be getting in the middle linebacker. But Grant is confident that fans will be seeing a whole new player in his No. 14 jersey this year.

"A good player I guess. Everybody's giving their all," Grant said. "I try to do my best. I just want to go out there and dominate."


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