Gamble set for big season

Is Chris Gamble the best player in the country? It's possible. We caught up with him recently to find out his thoughts on last season as well as the upcoming season as he prepares for a big year.

To hear Craig Krenzel tell it, what Chris Gamble did over the last half of last season -- and what he is planning to do again this year -- is nothing short of extraordinary.

"I would argue he's the best football player in America," Krenzel said of OSU's two-way threat Gamble, whom he shared team MVP honors with a year ago. "He has to split his reps between offense and defense and he's on just abut every one of our special teams.

"I'm sure there would be a handful of people who would agree with me. Most people only get to see what he does on Saturday. They don't get to sit in the meetings with him."

Krenzel, a pre-med major, is considered one of the nation's top scholar-athletes. But he gives credit to Gamble, a junior this season, for his heady approach to the game.

"He only gets to sit in on half of the meetings," Krenzel said. "But play in and play out, he grades out well because he knows what he is supposed to be doing. That's the amazing thing.

"I would definitely compare him to what the quarterback has to go through mentally."

With Maurice Clarett out of the picture -- at least for now -- Gamble may be OSU's most viable Heisman Trophy candidate.

After all, he has designs once again on playing flanker, cornerback and returning punts for the Buckeyes. About all he doesn't do is block field goals, and there has been talk he will be used as a speed rusher off the corner on even some of those plays.

Gamble admits that it will be hard to play a full game both ways early in the year because of the warm climate. In fact, he played only a handful of plays on offense during the jersey scrimmage Saturday, a scrimmage he capped with a nifty fumble recovery and return for the deciding touchdown in the defensive team's win.

In preparation for a grueling 2003 season, the 6-2 Gamble added nearly 15 pounds this off-season. He played at 185 pounds last year, but will open this campaign right around 200.

"I took it seriously in the off-season," Gamble said. "I felt like I had to get bigger to go against the receivers this season. I thought I should lift more to get bigger and stronger.

"I didn't take it seriously before because I was a receiver. But I take it more seriously now because I know I have to tackle the running backs like Maurice Clarett and Branden Joe.

"I'm enjoying playing receiver. I play receiver and the defensive people had a chance to hit me. Now I have a chance to hit some receivers."

Going against Miami (Fla.) All-American Andre Johnson, listed at 6-3, 220 pounds, in the Fiesta Bowl was an eye opening experience, Gamble said.

"I'm tougher now," Gamble said. "I took the weight room seriously. I tried to get more physical since (Miami's) Andre Johnson was so much bigger than me. I'm trying to go to another level and get physical with the receivers."

"All we did was run and lift this summer," he said. "I drank a lot of water. I got on the scale and saw I was 200 pounds and I was surprised."

Gamble's two-way exploits in the last half of OSU's national championship run earned him All-Big Ten and some All-American honors a year ago. But he knows he may have to watch how much double duty he pulls at least early in the 2003 season.

"I just want to stay on the field and make plays and have fun," he said. "But I know the first five games it will be warm. I just want to keep my energy and work mostly as a DB. I may go in on offense for a play or two and maybe run a reverse or something like that.

"I might get tired when it's hot. I may not play both ways until the middle of the season. Eventually, I'll probably be back up to 100 plays. The first five games, I might play less than that."

Gamble saw spot action as a corner in OSU's wins over Cincinnati and Wisconsin last year. He became a two-way starter -- and a household name -- in the Penn State game, where his interception return for a score was OSU's only touchdown in a pivotal 13-7 win.

"The first game I did it against Penn State, I had to think about what I was doing on offense and defense," he said. "But it all came together after that."

He noted he slept for 17 hours after that game, but added, "It got easier for me after the Penn State game."

But, while his teammates were partying the night away after their Fiesta Bowl win over Miami (Fla.), Gamble was tucked away in his bed after another 100-play evening.

"I was in bed the whole night," he said.

Gamble found himself at the center of controversy in that game. He was the receiver on a fourth-down incompletion that could have ended the game in the first overtime. But an official flagged a Miami defensive back for holding on the play, giving OSU another chance to tie and ultimately win the national title game.

"I could have caught it," Gamble said. "If I get in another situation like that again this year, I'm going to be more physically strong. I'm not going to let them hold me. I'm going to hit them off and get open."

Gamble, who hails from the Miami suburb of Sunrise, Fla., enjoyed going home after helping the Buckeyes stop the 'Canes.

"I went home in the spring and some of them were like, 'Yeah, you cheated.' I said, 'I don't care. We won,' " he said.

"Back in January, I always thought about how people were saying, 'Y'all cheated.' But now I'm just focused on getting back to the national championship so maybe we can play Miami again and prove our point."

Gamble thinks it is unique to be a rare breed as a two-way contributor.

"I noticed (Florida's) Keiwan Ratliff in the bowl game against Michigan playing both ways," he said. "I just have fun and try to help the team as much as I can. I always did it in high school, so why not do it in college?"

Last year, Gamble was OSU's second leading receiver (31 catches) and tops on the team in interceptions (four) and punt returns (8.4 average). But in two seasons at OSU, Gamble has yet to score a touchdown on a reception.

"I've got to get a touchdown catch," he said. "That's one of my goals. I had a reverse for a touchdown (against Indiana), but never had a catch. I thought I had one in the Fiesta Bowl, but I fell short.

"I hope to get it in the first game and just get it out of the way. That would just release all the stress. I haven't scored a touchdown yet on a reception.

"Once I moved to cornerback, I thought, 'If I can't score at receiver, maybe I can score on defense.'

"I also haven't returned a punt for a touchdown, so I want to show everybody I can do that. I did return one against Cincinnati, but it was called back. I'm going to try and return one every time I get the ball in my hands."

OSU head coach Jim Tressel said he will keep a close eye on Gamble so he doesn't wear out or break down.

"Chris Gamble can do anything," Tressel said. "He can be a punt returner, kick return, field corner and you could also highlight him as a feature receiver.

"He is one of those extraordinarily special kids who, if it was up to him, would play every play. It's going to be an interesting formula. Every time you turn around and tell Chris to sit down and take a break, he goes down to work with the other group.

"We have to make sure we do a good job of having him do the things Ohio State needs most, which would be both offense and defense for him. But I think especially in the warm weather, we've got to get a good game plan together."

Defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio also discussed how Gamble figures to be used.

"Chris worked almost exclusively on defense in the spring, so he has a real good feel for what he needs to do defensively and offensively," Dantonio said. "It's really completely up to Coach Tressel on how he plans to utilize him.

"But he is obviously an impact player on both sides of the ball and also on special teams. He never gets tired. The biggest thing for us is to stick to the plan. He's a very gifted athlete.

"Probably more importantly, he's an unbelievable person in how he handles things. He's very comfortable."

Krenzel agreed that Gamble's contributions go beyond his catches, interceptions, pass breakups and punt returns.

"He is a great athlete," Krenzel said. "There is no doubt about that. There are only a few guys in the country who could think about playing 125 or 130 plays in a game and he made it look easy. Plus, he's a good guy to be around."

But when the topic of whether Gamble is a serious Heisman Trophy candidate comes up, he is not buying into the hype.

"I'm just trying to win games and go back to the national championship," Gamble said. "That's all I'm thinking about right now."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories