Bennett Still Growing As A Defender

Centerville, Ohio, head coach Ron Ullery knew Michael Bennett was going to commit to Ohio State a week before the four-star defensive lineman pulled the trigger. Get Ullery's thoughts on Bennett's future, his growth as a defender and why he ultimately selected the Buckeyes.

Ron Ullery could see the potential nearly two years ago.

That season, his Centerville, Ohio, Elks won all five of their conference contests and finished 9-3 overall after suffering a loss to Cincinnati St. Xavier in the second round of the state playoffs. On the offensive line, a sophomore named Michael Bennett was holding down a starting position as a guard.

Now preparing for his senior season, Bennett is listed by Scout.com as one of the top defensive tackles in the country and is the newest member of Ohio State's class of 2011. Although Bennett still plays on offense, his head coach said he feels his future is on the other side of the ball.

"He was all for (playing defense)," the Centerville head coach told BuckeyeSports.com. "It was an easy decision on the coaches' part to play him on both sides of the ball because he's that talented. He's that athletic and that explosive and that talented of a football. Michael was totally receptive."

As a junior, Bennett split time on offense as a guard and tackle. It was then that he began playing on defense – and at first he merely dabbled on that side of the ball.

"The first half of last year he probably only played 25 percent of the downs on defense and the last half of the year he was playing half to three-quarters of the plays on defense," Ullery said. "I don't anticipate him coming off the field too much on defense this year."

In his limited playing time, Bennett recorded 1½ sacks and recovered a fumble. Offensively, he earned all-conference and first-team all-division honors as well as being named as one of four players to share player of the year honors.

Owing to his playing background, about half of Bennett's scholarship offers were for him to play on offense. It was one of many factors to fall OSU's way: those schools that viewed him exclusively as an offensive player were cut from Bennett's list.

"There were actually quite a few that said, ‘We don't care. You can come in and pick,' " Ullery said. "He can play on either side of the ball. Ohio State recruited him as a defensive lineman, which is where Michael would prefer to play, but he can play at the highest level on either side of the ball."

Ullery said Bennett is still growing as a defender. Scout ranks him the No. 6 defensive tackle in the nation and the No. 5 overall prospect from Ohio.

Viewing him as a defender was only one reason why the Buckeyes landed a verbal commitment from Bennett. Ullery said OSU was the first big school in on the 6-3, 275-pound lineman – just ahead of eventual runner-up Northwestern.

Bennett eventually picked the Buckeyes over the Wildcats based on their academic reputation, Ullery said. The four-star prospect plans to go into medicine and had to be assured that he could position himself both to play in the NFL and to be a doctor.

When he felt he could do that in Columbus, he pulled the trigger. Ullery said Bennett came to his final conclusion one week before he placed the phone call to OSU head coach Jim Tressel.

"Michael was struggling a little bit on how to say yes to Ohio State and how to say no to Northwestern," Ullery said. "That's a tough one for a kid who's never been through it before. He struggled with it a little bit and I know he wanted his parents to be involved and at home at the time when he made the call to Coach Tressel. That's what took him so long."

Ullery said the fact that Bennett was choosing between OSU and Northwestern caused some head-scratching when other coaches would come through his office.

"That is a little different," the coach said. "Knowing him, it's not a surprise. That's what most people would say (including) the coaches that would come through. I'd tell them who his final two are and they'd look at me like, ‘Wow.' "

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