Before the season began, Braxton Miller, Jeff Heuerman, Michael Bennett and Doran Grant were all sure-fire starters. Each of them started the previous year and proved they had the qualities, both on and off the field, that Urban Meyer looks for in his captains.
Then comes the case of Curtis Grant.
Grant, along with the other four captains, was a part of the 2011 recruiting class, Jim Tressel’s last at Ohio State. He was not only the last recruit to commit, but also the most heralded. He was a consensus five-star recruit and Scout had him rated as the best at his position. If this list of captains had been released four years ago, Curtis Grant being included would surprise no one.
Since coming to Columbus from Richmond, Va., though, Grant hasn't lived up to the lofty expectations many fans had while classmate Ryan Shazier become the All-American they expected Grant to be.
Heading into fall camp this year, he found himself in a battle with freshman Raekwon McMillan to win the starting spot at middle linebacker for the Silver Bullets. Though he has been named the opening day starter, Grant was still named captain before the depth chart was released.
So what happened during this past offseason that has earned Grant the trust of the team and coaches?
“Coach (Meyer) would say growing up,” Grant said. “Basically getting my mind right and doing the things I need to do. Looking at the bigger picture instead of right now.”
Meyer definitely agreed, making a point to point out the growth Grant has gone through during his time at Ohio State.
"That's one of the great things about what we do for a living is to see young people grow up, and boy, has Curtis Grant done a nice job." Meyer said.
In his first three years on campus, Grant said, his mind hasn’t been right 100 percent of the time. When he was on the field he was not quite sure what he had to do. The game wasn’t coming naturally to him like in high school, when he was dominating his competition. Now, it seems like he is in a good place.
Grant has always had the tools and athleticism to play well in college. At 6-3 and a chiseled 238 pounds, he is one of the more physically imposing players on the team. He can take any offensive player down, but had to first learn his own plays. Now that he has grasped the playbook he has been able to play more instinctively.
“Now that I understand what I’m doing, I can understand what my opponent’s doing,” Grant said about his knowledge defensively. “I think that’s very big for a middle linebacker because you can’t just rush up the field and get lucky and make a sack or something like that. You have to be able to read the offense.”
Before being named captain, he took on the role of being the quarterback of the defense right as camp started. The players and coaches took note and Luke Fickell called him the passion and energy of the defense. The spirit and confidence he has brought each day of practice has made his teammates even better players. According to fellow starting linebacker Joshua Perry, when Grant is having a great day, everyone else is having one too.
“This year his mentality was to be a guy who was about the team and to help everybody in our unit out and I think by doing that it made him a better overall player and leader,” Perry said. “He was able to pick us up when we were down. He took what he was doing in the film room and workouts and everything more seriously so that helped him develop more. His want to make our unit a better unit is something that helped him develop into a better player.”
It isn’t just his fellow starters that he wants to energize as he has been trying to help the underclassmen ease the transition from high school to big-time college football. That’s something he is not taking lightly as captain, helping the younger members of the team as they try to get over the learning curve it took him so long to get past.
He wants to be the example that not every star recruit makes an instant impact. Being named captain made him think back to those days and how far he has come since then. He has shown that if you put in work and buy in to the team, it can lead to amazing things.
“It makes me appreciate my past and where I've come from,” Grant said about his captainship. “I just use this as motivation to the young guys. To show them you might not do great your first couple years here, but you can always make a change.”
And now that change has just about come full-circle. His leadership and passion has already begun to characterize not just the defense, but to the whole team.