One idea the staff came up with was to play freshman Dionte Johnson. The goal coming into the 2004 season was to redshirt the bruising fullback. However, plans often change midseason, especially in the midst of a three game losing streak. Johnson was so impressive on the scout team, that it was an easy decision for the coaching staff to remove the redshirt and turn him loose.
"About the second or third time he knocked A.J. Hawk's helmet off, we decided maybe we'd be smart enough to let him knock somebody else's helmet off," OSU running backs coach Dick Tressel said in February. "He's got no fear, he loves the game and he's one of those silent motivators of the group. Just because you know he's so excited to be there and just wants to do it so well and is such a physical football player."
We caught up with Johnson following Friday's practice and he says his first spring at OSU is going according to plan.
"Oh, everything is going real good," Johnson said. "Just out here learning and getting to bang around a little bit. We kind of miss football for a couple months now."
Johnson then gave his recollections of the 2004 season. He would have been fine if he had to redshirt, but he's glad it worked out the way it did.
"Oh, well it was incredible," he said. "Coming in and when you think you're going to redshirt, the whole time you're sitting there like, ‘Man, I want to get on the field.' So, when (head coach Jim Tressel) came to me with the proposition, I was like, ‘Well, I want to play.' It was a no-brainer. I was like, ‘If you guys need me, I'll be there.' So, it was an easy decision and it was a wonderful feeling once I got out there and got a chance to play.
"Indiana was my first game. That's something I'll never forget."
Johnson is built in the Jamar Martin mold. He just looks like a fullback. However, he says he's actually lost weight from last season.
"I was about 249 last year," he said. "I'm about 243, 244 right now. My senior year of high school, I played around 230, 225. So, yeah, I've put on a lot of weight since then."
Although Johnson wants to be the starting fullback this fall, this spring he is more concerned about the mental side of the game.
"Right now, my goal is just to learn some more," he said. "Everybody keeps forgetting that this game is mental as well as physical. So, I've got to continue to learn from these people – Brandon Schnittker and Stan White – then hopefully I'll find my way on the field."
Johnson is the son of Pepper Johnson – the former star linebacker at OSU and in the NFL. He is now the linebackers coach for the New England Patriots.
"Oh, he's a big influence," Dionte said. "He keeps me grounded and he tries to inform me of the ins and the outs of the game. He tells me that the cream will rise to the top and he likes to tell me just the ways that it's going to be. Just how to bide my time."
Johnson looks around and can't believe how much talent the Buckeyes have on offense this year. Aside from the latter part of last season, the offense has been the target of a lot of criticism from fans. But Johnson says those days are over.
"That's the most exciting part about this team, because a lot of people are underrating our offense," he said. "We have a lot of weapons coming back. Santonio (Holmes), everyone knows Ted (Ginn), Troy (Smith), Pit (Antonio Pittman). It's crazy because everyone is questioning the running game, which I believe is going to be one of the strongest parts on the team."
And this Sunday, the offense will go head-to-head with the defense in the jersey scrimmage in Ohio Stadium. The winners get the scarlet practice jerseys and bragging rights until the fall.
"Well, I can't wait for the scrimmage, but as quick as it comes, as quick as it goes," Johnson said. "I'm going to be kind of sad when it goes away, because we're going to have to have the whole long summer without hitting again."
Spoken like a true fullback.