Last week was a busy one for Mike Kne.
First, he was awarded a scholarship. Then, he made his first career start in the win over Northwestern.
"It was awesome," Kne said. "It was a dream come true to get the scholarship and then that first start."
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior gives Ohio State a lot of options on the offensive line. He can play several positions and doesn't care where he lines up.
"I play right guard, right tackle and left guard," he said. "I feel like wherever they need me, I can play there. I look at myself as a utility lineman, just working in wherever they need me."
Kne has been playing quite a bit this year, even before his start against Northwestern.
"They've been rotating me in there pretty well," he said. "I'm just happy to get in there and play."
With center/guard Alex Stepanovich set to return from a sprained ankle, the Buckeyes are finally getting their depth where they like it on the O-line.
"Yeah, we are feeling good about the depth," Kne said. "Alex is a great player, and Nick (Mangold) is. So, I don't know what they are going to do with Alex yet. Not sure if they are going to play him at center, or somewhere else. But he can play anywhere on the line and it's real good depth now."
Ohio State offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman has said that it is one of his goals to have a rotation on the O-line. Does Bollman put a number on it? Does he want 8-10 guys rolling through, like the Buckeyes' defensive line?
"I don't even know," Kne said. "He just lets you know the day of the game – or the day before – what his plan is for that week."
As it turns out, Kne was the only walk-on to receive a scholarship this year. In Jim Tressel's first two seasons, multiple walk-ons were placed on scholarship.
So, was Kne expecting to get the good news? After his strong showing last year – coupled with Tressel's history of rewarding walk-ons – it seemed fairly obvious that he would get the 'ship.
"I wasn't expecting anything," Kne said. "I figured if they could, and they felt I was working hard enough, they'd end up giving me one."
Coming out of high school, Kne was basically ignored by recruiters. And it's not like he can use the excuse that he came from a small school that doesn't get much attention. He came from tradition-rich Cleveland St. Ignatius.
"No D-I schools offered me," Kne said. "I just got U Mass, Richmond and Fordham."
He ended up picking Fordham and starting as a freshman. He played more snaps than any other freshman on the team that season (2000).
But, how does Kne explain the fact that he was overlooked by D-I schools coming out of the prep ranks?
"I don't know. Having played on the line with Dan Mooney, I guess he was getting all the sunshine."
Kne was asked to pinpoint the best part of being on scholarship.
"It makes you feel like more part of the guys now," he said. "You're going in and eating with them; you get that nice check every month. I think it's like $850, or something like that."
For a big guy like Kne, the training table food might be the best part of the deal. Even better than the money.
"It's a lot better than my cooking," he said. "Actually, when I walked in there (for the first time), they didn't have me on the list yet. They had to call over to (director of football operations) Bob Tucker to make sure I was on the list."
When Kne was fending for himself in the kitchen, what did he usually cook?
"A lot of Skillet Sensations. My favorite was chicken alfredo. Throw that on the stove, it's ready in like seven minutes."
Senior Adrien Clarke knows that Kne has been a big addition to the team.
"Ever since Mike's been here, he's done a great job," Clarke said. "When we've had a couple injuries, he's came in and got the job done; as well as when we just need to switch it up a little bit. Last year, he was more of a jumbo-type lineman – sixth or seventh man off the bench or what not. This year, he is playing a major role on the offensive line. No longer is he the jumbo lineman; he can actually come in and get the job done."
Like Kne, Clarke has been lining up at multiple spots this year. He can play tackle, or guard.
"Coach Bolls wants us all to be utility lineman, just in case someone goes down," Clarke said.
What position does Clarke prefer?
"I like tackle, because I feel like I'm on a island," he said, "I feel like the spotlight is on me. If I mess up everyone knows; if I do good everyone knows. But, honestly, I just don't like to leave the field, so guard is cool with me too. Wherever they need me, I'll be ready to play."
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Clarke is glad to get Stepanovich back. They have played together for four years and no one knows better than Clarke how valuable Stepanovich is to the offense. But, at the same time, Step's injury has allowed some other linemen to prove themselves.
"With Alex being out, we found out that we had other people that could play," Clarke said. "So, with Alex coming back, naturally we are going to be better. So, we're looking forward to getting him back in the lineup."
We asked Clarke the same question as Kne about the offensive line rotation. Is it a set rotation with "x" amount of players, or does Bollman go with whoever is hot?
"Honestly, with Coach Bolls, it's kind of a game-day type thing," Clarke said. "He'll come to us before the game and tell us our rotation. He might tell me to go guard the first three series and then the fourth, go tackle. He might tell Bryce (Bishop) to go the first two series at guard, then bring Alex in, or Nick in, or whoever. So, it really depends on whatever he feels like doing that day."
Clarke knows the line should be playing better, but he thinks it is close to turning things around. He says that the fact so many guys can play multiple positions bodes well for the future.
"I think it says we're versatile and we can get the job done," Clarke said. "But as far as statistically right now, we're not where we should be, as far as the rushing yards and everything like that. But, it has a lot to do with everybody. Everybody plays their own part and we've just got to get the job done."
Is it safe to say that the Buckeyes haven't found the right lineup yet on the O-line?
"No, I wouldn't necessarily say that," Clarke said. "I would just say that week in, and week out, we get something different thrown at us. We just have to adapt and keep moving forward. The running game, that's a big part of our offense. It has to get established at some point in time, so we've just got to keep chucking at it and hopefully it breaks."
Clarke is not intimidated by hostile crowds and is actually looking forward to making the trip to Wisconsin next week.
"Definitely. I'm looking forward to going up there. Camp Randall. I mean, hey, that's a heck of a place to play. The crowds are rowdy and they are ready to play every time they play us, so, hey, we have to be ready to go play them as well."
Sophomore guard Adam Olds came out of high school in 2001 as the top lineman in Ohio. He redshirted his first year, was injured last year (hip surgery), but is finally getting a chance to play. He logged the most playing time of his career two weeks ago against Bowling Green.
"It feels good to finally contribute to the team," Olds said. "You hear that hard works pays off and I'm finally finding a niche in the offensive line where I can contribute to the team.
"I didn't get to play against Northwestern, but I was on the two-deep at guard for Bowling Green. That was the most I've played since high school and it felt great. I'm just going to keep working hard and try and earn whatever playing time I can get."
The O-line hasn't been playing very well this year, but Olds believes that things are about to change.
"I think we have a very good line," he said. "We haven't played our best ball yet, but we're getting healthy now with Alex back and I think we are going to prove that we are a good line and we can get the running game going."
Last year was a tough one for Olds. He was thrilled to be on the national championship team, but it would have meant more to him if he could have played.
"It was mental year for me, because obviously I had to sit out and watch everything," he said. "I was only able to practice for about two or three weeks out of the fall. So, unfortunately that was tough, but I supported my team the entire time because I was still a part of it.
"It was really great that we won the national championship, but at the same time, you're kind of envious because you didn't get to contribute as much as you would have. But, I understand that everything happens for a reason, so, I just have to deal with it and move on."
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Olds did not have some freak injury last year that led to the hip surgery. It was just a nagging injury and the doctors told him it was probably best they do something about it before things got worse.
"It was just wear and tear," Olds said. "I feel real good right now."