Last year, Maurice Clarett mentioned that reserve quarterback Troy Smith was his closest friend on the team. The two have been staying in close contact throughout Clarett's recent battle with off the field issues.
"Oh yeah, we've been talking a lot," Smith told Bucknuts.com. "You've got to. Just as far as that stuff going on, you don't lose touch with a friend. That's my friend first and foremost. I don't want to say I'm feeling it the most, but I'm feeling it just as much as he is, because I know what type of guy he is. He'll prevail though; he'll be all right."
Some of Ohio State's players might resent Clarett for the negative attention he's bringing to the team. But Smith says that is not the case.
"We're basically feeling it just like he is because he's one of our teammates - one of the key members on the team," Smith said "We're feeling it for him. Everyone that I've talked to on this team is behind him."
As of Wednesday, Smith wasn't sure if Clarett would be cleared to play this season. When they speak, Clarett hasn't given him a clear indication one way or another, but has seemed a little more optimistic lately.
"To tell you the truth, I really don't know if he'll play this season," Smith said. "Because when it deals with the NCAA, I keep my nose out of it, because that is something way too big to be trying to dip and dab into. So, I really don't know. From talking to him, he was down about it, but now he's sounding more positive, so we'll see."
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Smith came on strong in fall camp last year. When camp started, the plan was to play him at receiver and not much at quarterback. Jim Tressel said there was probably only enough practice snaps for one freshman QB. But when Justin Zwick suffered a minor arm injury early in camp, Smith was given his shot. He looked sharp in practice and really shined in the fall scrimmages.
"Just as far as kind of being the forgotten man in the recruiting class, sometimes that is what it takes to get that hunger, that drive back," Smith said. "There was sort of a drive for me like, ‘Well, they forget about me. Well, I'm going to work hard and get on top.' I just worked hard. My work ethic, coming from Glenville High School, that one of the things we take pride in is working hard."
By the end of camp, there was no more talk about Smith playing receiver. He was a quarterback, period. Suddenly, with Zwick also looking good, the coaches had two young talented QBs to develop. But Smith swears he didn't take satisfaction in proving anyone wrong.
"I wasn't really trying to prove anyone wrong," he said. "Just as far as playing football here, it's a team thing. This is about a team. I am not out to prove anyone wrong, to show anybody what I can do, because when I get the opportunity, I am going to show what I can do."
Smith and Zwick are friends. The two redshirt freshmen will be "battling" for the starting job next fall, but Smith doesn't want it categorized quite like that.
"I wouldn't say it's a battle," he said. "Just as far as the competition goes between Justin and I - I wouldn't even say it's a competition like a heated rivalry - it's just two competitive players out there just trying to vie for that quarterback spot, which is something that, as you can see, is really important here. So, it's not a battle, at all. The friendship between Justin and I is real good, we help each other in any way, any time, we can. So, it's not a battle at all. We're just competing for the job."
Smith seems to have the attitude that most OSU fans have. It doesn't matter who starts at quarterback, as long as the Bucks are winning games. If Zwick gets the nod, he will have the Buckeye Nation behind him. As will Smith if he wins the job.
"That's how you have to look at it," Smith said. "If Justin is out there, I'm hoping he puts six points on the board for us."
Smith and Zwick have the luxury of learning under two veteran quarterbacks in Craig Krenzel and Scott McMullen. Smith is always picking up pointers from them.
"It helps a lot working with those guys," Smith said. "Since last year, Scott and Craig give their helping hand whenever they can. So, it helps a whole lot. Craig and Scott. Craig is a great guy, as you can see with what he did with the 14-0 season. You can see what he can do when the ball is in his hands. Scott is just as good when he is given a chance. I think Justin and I are real fortunate to learn under some guys like that."
We asked Smith to describe himself as a quarterback. He was not shy in his response.
"First and foremost, I want to say my favorite quarterbacks are Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb," Smith said. "And then again, when I was younger and growing up, I used to love Dan Marino. So, I can say a little bit of a twist in between all those guys just as far as being able to move around, but then again being able to throw the ball."
Smith knows he has a lot of improvements to make to one day be the starter at OSU (or be mentioned in the same breath with Vick, McNabb and Marino), but says his development is coming along nicely.
"I feel like I'm developing real well," he said. "I am learning new things every day and that is what you have to do as a quarterback. I am just trying to run this offense, make the play when it's there and stay away from mistakes. I have a long way to go, but I am getting better every day."