I went to visit with Justin Boren, the highly-touted offensive lineman from Pickerington High School North, and I still haven't figured out if I was more impressed by Boren himself or the entire compound that is Pickerington High School North.
I've been to some pretty nice high schools over the years and some that are not so nice as well, but this place took the cake, and the icing and the candles as well. Its somewhat sprawling campus and main building was aesthetically gorgeous upon first inspection.
And on the inside it was even nicer.
I felt like I was walking into the main lobby of a Fortune 500 company with a secretary station just a few yards inside the main entrance.
I introduced myself and explained my reason for the visit and I was treated like a family relative from that point on.
The very first lady that I spoke to in the school was a Buckeye fan. She introduced me to the school principle, Michael Smith, and he was a Buckeye fan. There were Buckeye fans everywhere in the school it seemed. It was my kind of place.
Minutes later I was directed up to the room where the head football coach Tim Bahen was. It was right after the beginning of a period, so while he gave his class some initial instruction and took care of business with them, I glanced at the Columbus Dispatch.
When Coach Bahen had a few minutes to spare, we chatted briefly about Boren.
When he looked up Boren's schedule to see where he was at that period, I was impressed to hear that he was in some type of introduction to engineering class. But when you consider his father, Mike, has a landscaping and an excavation business, it sounds as if Justin is already making wise decisions about his future if that engineering class is any indication.
"Justin is very well versed academically as well as he is athletically," Bahen said. "He doesn't take easy courses and he's on schedule to graduate in December or January, whenever his term ends. He plans on enrolling early in college and he's academically qualified right now NCAA-wise through the clearinghouse. He's got a 25 or a 26 on his ACT and a 1231 on his SAT so you're not dealing with somebody who is going to have any academic problems whatsoever."
But Boren is an even better football player than he is a student. He was offered a football scholarship in the summer after his sophomore season by Jim Tressel and he's at or near the top of almost everyone who is anyone's wish list in the country. And new offers have been pouring in steadily since January.
"I think his best football is still ahead of him," Bahen said. "He has very good feet for a player his size, he's a tenacious blocker and he played some great defense for us - he played defensive end and at 6-4 ½ and 310 pounds, that's pretty good size for a defensive end. And he showed quick feet, good balance and good leverage out there. His upside is just humongous and his best football, like I said, is still plenty ahead of him."
Obviously just picturing Boren smashing offensive tackles and running backs around as a defensive end on the high school level is pretty scarey but his ticket to the next level is going to be punched for his prowess as an offensive lineman.
"We do a lot of down blocking and pulling and trapping and we had him at tackle for the 2004 year and we pulled him quite a bit," Bahen said. "He's a devastating trapper and when he traps you, you know you're being trapped. He clears out a pretty big hole. He's good at working up on the linebackers and he has good angles and good feet. When he latches on to you I haven't seen, or I can't remember if I even have seen, anybody getting away from him once he latches on and starts rolling the hips and driving his feet. It's pretty much a done deal at that point."
Boren first started half way through his freshman year when there was just one Pickerington High School and then after the split he started every game for North in his sophomore and junior seasons.
"I think in his first year over at the old high school he was a guard, but we moved him to tackle in our offensive scheme here and he's done a real good job," Bahen said. "He's done whatever we've asked him to do. He had to learn a whole new offensive system after being in the old Pickerington system for one year and he's adjusted to our system well. He'll do whatever you ask him to do. He's just a complete ball player right now."
Bahen sent me down to the guidance office after talking with him and that's where I met Boren. He was sitting there waiting for me already.
Wow! Look test? Passed with flying colors. Big, thick, strong and powerful were just a few of the words that raced through my mind initially.
And seconds later, as we introduced ourselves, I discovered he was very friendly as well.
We sought out a place where we could have some privacy so I got an unexpected mini-tour of what the high school was like on the inside. They don't build them like they used to I guess. I don't think some colleges have facilities that are as nice as what I saw walking through the halls and the cafeteria with the big man on campus...literally.
But when we found a unpopulated region of the school, we simply stopped in the hall and started talking football. After all, it was the main reason I came to his school for.
We opened the recruiting faucet and the information from Boren started pouring out.
"Yeah there's a lot of colleges that are showing interest," he said. "I have 11 (Oklahoma came later on Friday making it 12) scholarship offers as of date, of course the biggest of which are Ohio State and Michigan."
He read off the litany of names in addition to the Big Two.
"Syracuse, Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan State, Boston College, Miami of Ohio, Akron and Cincinnati," Boren recited. "But I think it's probably going to come down to Ohio State or Michigan, one of the two, and right now I'm leaning toward Ohio State."
Needless to say, Boren made my day with that unsolicited statement. I can already picture him in the scarlet and gray colors of OSU. Think of chunk of granite underneath a silver helmet and you too can have an immediate visual.
But it's more than his size that is drawing the attention of college recruiters.
"I'm real strong, I'm pretty athletic and I guess I'm a good blocker," Boren said. "I've played right tackle here since this school was built but as a freshmen I played guard and next year Coach is moving me back to guard because that's probably what I'm playing in college.
"I play defensive end too. I played there three games at the end of the season and it went well. I kind of surprised myself because I never played it before. I didn't have much confidence in myself when they told me that I was going to play there but I did all right."
Confidence, however, isn't lacking when he's playing in his more natural milieu on the offensive line. Especially when Boren bench presses 450 pounds and squats 660 pounds.
"I take pride in pancake blocks. Looking to kick the other guy's butt every play is the main thing," Boren said. "I feel that I'm a good run blocker, I love pulling and yet I can pass block pretty well too."
He's obviously in his glory playing on the offensive line.
"A lot of people think it's a boring position but I love it," Boren said. "It's all about kicking the other guys butt that's across from you and I get a kick out of it. It's what I do."
And he's good at it. OSU recognized his talents early on and immediately extended him an offer.
"Ohio State was the first college to offer me after my sophomore year and that's when it first started," Boren said. "With my dad playing I always had aspirations of playing college football but that first offer definitely started to set things going in my mind."
Boren attended camp there after his sophomore season and obviously impressed the staff enough to make him an offer soon after.
"I talked to them on the phone and they wanted to offer me so me and my parents went down and we went into Coach Tressel's office and he officially offered me there," he said. "It was a great experience and it's stayed in my mind that your first offer is always an important one and it's always in the back of my mind."
And it certainly helps the cause that Boren thinks highly of the coaching staff at Ohio State.
"The coaching staff at Ohio State, I love them, they're great coaches," he said. "Coach Bollman, Coach Fickell and Coach Tressel, they're all great guys and it's going to be hard to turn them down."
There was an instant connection for Boren to Bollman, in particular.
"He's just a nice guy, he's great to talk to," Boren said. "Him and I actually have a lot of the same hobbies and interests. He likes boating and I like boating and his dad, I think, was a contractor and that's what my dad does and that's what I'm going to get into in college. He's a real good guy."
Even Ohio State's newest assistant Coach Haynes has a longstanding relationship with Boren, he was recruiting Boren for Michigan State before he came to OSU.
"Yeah it's a good thing," Boren said. "I'm not about to make a commitment or anything but Ohio State is my number one choice. I like Ohio State."
But being the son of a Michigan linebacker, Boren wants to make sure he is making the right choice before he makes a commitment. He has undeniable roots with the school up north.
"I grew up being a big fan of Michigan, a big fan, and I went to all of the games," he said. "I still have Michigan shirts and stuff that I wear because I just have so many of them. But that's neither here nor there. It's going to be a decision that's best for me, not who I liked growing up. It's going to be a hard decision to make."
He already has a tentative itinerary in place for how things might go down in the immediate future.
"I'm probably looking at a commitment probably in June because I'm graduating early and I want to get that started," Boren said. "I'm going to Nike camp in Ann Arbor and I think I'm going to Ohio State's senior camp, one day camp, and that's about it. And then the season gets started. Right now we're just lifting real hard and I'm doing another program to work on my speed and conditioning."
After his senior season, if time permits he may take a couple of official visits just to look around.
"When I commit, I'm going to commit and I'm not going to play any of those games. It's going to be a decision that I'm going to stick to," Boren said. "I'm looking to graduate in December of ‘05 and start school in the winter quarter."
Sounds like the plan is already in motion. I'm sure glad OSU is on quarters and not semesters.
But if it sounds like a slam dunk, it's not. Well not really.
"I'm keeping my doors open," Boren said. "It's one of those things where I don't want to lead other colleges on. There's some other schools that I'll take a look at but I'm pretty confident that it will come down to Ohio State and Michigan."
And he admits that he sort of knows now what his final destination will be.
"I kind of do. I kind of have a feeling as of now what's best for me," Boren said. "That could change but it's looking pretty good. I have a pretty good idea."
I guess we'll all have to wait a few more months to officially find out what school that will be but before we parted ways in that immaculate school building where Boren will graduate from by the end of this calendar year, Boren said..."Go Bucks!"
In part two of this series on Justin Boren, we'll get to know Mike Boren, Justin's dad, a little better and find out what he thinks about the decision his son has in front of him. Could this former Michigan linebacker find himself wearing scarlet and gray colors in the future? Would he even dare to do that? Mike Boren was a top recruit in the Columbus area at Eastmoor High School and was nearly shunned by his favorite school during the transition from the Woody Hayes staff to the Earle Bruce staff. Was he bitter? Why Michigan? We'll find out how this self-made business man is doing now raising his family in the Columbus area now in part two of this series on Justin Boren and the choice between Ohio State and Michigan.