Tailback Maurice Hall is ready for his shot at the starting tailback job.
He made some big plays at the end of the 2002 season – including scoring the winning touchdowns against Illinois and Michigan – but didn't receive the amount of playing time he wanted.
But Hall (5-10, 205, Jr.) kept his mouth shut and continued to work hard. And now, due to the Maurice Clarett situation, coupled with a nagging quad injury to Lydell Ross, he appears to be the featured back heading into opening night against Washington.
"I felt like ever since spring, my plan was to come into camp and start," Hall said. "I never knew how it was going to work out and I still don't know if I'm going to start – I'm not going to say I'm going to start – but if I do, it will be a small goal and I'll go work from there."
Like he has said all along, he just wants a chance to perform.
"It's definitely a good experience for me," Hall said. "I'm going to take advantage of the opportunities I get, regardless of the situation."
Whether he begins the UW game on the field, or the sidelines, Hall is just happy the season is almost here.
"Oh yeah, it's going to be good," he said, "I'm real excited to get out there and get this season rolling. It's been a long offseason and a long camp and it's going to be fun to get out there in a game and do what we do."
Hall has another year of experience under his belt and also added about 10-15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. But he doesn't think he's more prepared to be the featured back than he was last year.
"I think I'm prepared," he said. "I don't know if you can say better because last year I prepared the same way and I was ready to start regardless. So, I think both ways (starter or backup), I'm going to be prepared."
During camp, Ohio State's backfield has looked like a game of musical chairs. There is someone new getting snaps almost every day.
"It's been crazy because we've had a lot of people change position and come to running back because we have so many injuries, and then they get hurt," Hall said. "So, it's crazy, but we're making it through and we're just continuing to learn and continuing to try and work hard so when Aug. 30 comes, we'll be ready."
Hall was asked if he feels some pressure living up to the "Tailback U" label at OSU.
"Of course," he said. "Ohio State is known for their running backs and that's why we have three good running backs. And even the people that a lot of people don't know are very good running backs also. So, whoever plays, regardless if its me, or one of the people that people don't know, they can get the job done."
Hall has been hampered by a minor knee injury in camp and has been held out of some live drills. But he's not concerned about missing some practice snaps here and there. He is a veteran guy and when game time rolls around, he says he'll be ready.
"I feel like I've been healthy enough because I think I have all the physical things already down," he said. "I've already been in the system for a couple years, so I know what to expect. I know the speed of the game and it's just really getting the mental aspect. When the game is here, even though I've been a little banged up and missed some contact, I'll be fine."
Hall says the knee problem has not affected the way he practices.
"It really hasn't limited me," he said. "I've been doing everything in practice, except people haven't really took me down and tackled me. But, I did play in the scrimmage Saturday and I felt good, so I don't think it will be a hindrance at all."
With Clarett likely out, the Buckeyes will have to re-think their game plan against Washington just a bit. A Jim Tressel team is always going to run the ball, but there might be some different plays called with Hall in the game, as opposed to Clarett.
"I think you might have to change (the gameplan) a little bit because we add some different things," Hall said. "(Clarett) is more power and I'm more speed. So, they're going to have to look at the speed aspect a little more, but I think when it really comes down to it, most of it is going to be the same thing as far as the Ohio State offense."
The Columbus native says the Bucks have begun installing the game-plan for the Huskies.
"Yes we have," he said. "We really started today (Thursday). We've been watching film on them and they're a good team. They have a good defense and they're offense is explosive."
According to Hall, the Buckeyes have been working on throwing to the backs more in practice this year. He hopes that will carry over into the games.
"Yeah, we've really been working a lot more on that this year," Hall said. "I think it's just going to help our offense because we're trying to average more points and throwing to the backs is going to help us a lot. We didn't do it all that much last year, but we've definitely been stressing that a little more in camp."
Like everyone else, Hall has noticed a big difference in OSU's trimmed-down offensive line. He thinks the holes he'll be running through might be a little bigger this year.
"I think our line has really been preparing hard, especially during the summer," Hall said. "A lot of them are in much better shape than they were last year and that really shows me that they want to win a national championship again. That's what you have to have when it comes to an offensive line. All of them are veterans and they're coming back and they're ready to play."
How much of a difference can he see in the line?
"I think it is a big difference," Hall said. "Those guys are moving around a lot better – they have more confidence – and that's going to help out our entire offense. Last year, I think we played our butts off, but this year, we're just so much more ready and so much more prepared and experienced that it's just going to be a different atmosphere."
After last season, there were some rumors that Hall was looking to transfer. It was one thing to sit behind Clarett, but he was also behind Ross on the depth chart. In fact, Hall didn't receive a carry in the Fiesta Bowl, despite his contributions against Illinois and Michigan.
"I never really thought about leaving," he said. "I knew this was the place I wanted to be and just kept working hard. Things have a way of working out."
Hall was asked if it is a little easier to work hard when you know there is a legitimate shot at playing time. Has he been working even harder with Clarett out?
"Well, not really, but kind of," he said. "I'm going to prepare hard regardless. If (Clarett) was here, I'm going to be ready to play and if he wasn't here, I'm still going to be ready. So, it doesn't matter. It's nice to know that you are going to get an opportunity, but I don't work any harder knowing I might get more carries."
Hall has always felt that the hard work he put in was worth it. Even when he was listed as third string, he didn't allow himself to get down.
"I've always thought it was worth it because I definitely wouldn't be here if I didn't think it was worth it to play here," he said.
We tried to ask Hall as many football-related questions as possible, but most of the media was fixated on asking about the off-the-field issues. What is Hall's reaction to all the off-the-field questions?
"Well, it's cool, because there's always going to be off-the-field things that you have to think about," he said. "So, it really doesn't matter. We know we have to stay focused and we're going to be focused when Washington comes in. We're not going to let stuff on the outside bother us."