If you don't want to play, that's fine. Someone like Mike D'Andrea, who is still dripping with medals from the state track and field meet, probably needs a short break from sports. But don't call the game meaningless. Let's say you are a high school player who plays for a 1-8 team and you've recently verbally accepted a D-I college scholarship. Do you not play in the last game of your high school season in fear of injury? Your team is not going to qualify for the playoffs even if you win, so it's a meaningless game, right?
Not to a football player. That game is probably against your rival team and you aren't going to miss it for anything. Just like you wouldn't miss a chance to play with Ohio's best players in the oldest all-star football game in the country.
And injuries are something football players do not think about anyway. There might be a few players like D'Andrea who decide not to play for personal reasons, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a player who considers the North-South game meaningless, or someone who is not playing strictly to avoid injury. These are athletes. They've played sports their entire lives. If they're not playing football, they're probably playing pick-up basketball with their friends. And I can't imagine one of these kids saying, "Sorry guys, no hoops for me today. I could sprain an ankle out there."
When was the last time an OSU recruit was seriously injured in an all-star game? Tight end Ben Hartsock broke his leg in the 1999 Big 33 game. Hartsock
was forced to redshirt his first year at OSU (which he probably would have anyway), but has shown no ill-effects since. So even in the
worst-case scenario where a serious injury does occur, it's not like it's the end of
the player's career.
With the possible exception of the offensive line, the position that seems to concern Buckeye fans the most is cornerback. Is there reason to fret?
The OSU corners are young and inexperienced and will be put to the test early in the year against some very capable passing attacks. Namely Texas
Tech, Washington State and Cincinnati. The Big Ten season might be a little easier on them, only Purdue and Northwestern are predominantly passing
Let's break down the group that could make or break the Buckeyes' season... The probable starters are Richard "Don't call me Dick" McNutt (5-10, 178, Jr.) and Dustin Fox (6-0, 190, So.). McNutt played in all 12 games last year and saw his minutes increase as the season wore on. Back in high school (Rich East, Ill.), McNutt was ranked as one of the top five cornerbacks in the nation despite missing his senior year with an ankle infection (14 picks as a junior). That ankle injury has continued to hobble him at OSU and doctors have told him that the pain might never go away. With a guy as small as McNutt, it's not good to hear that he'll be playing on a bum ankle. McNutt's strengths? He plays the ball pretty well and he is very quick, even with the ankle problem.
Fox is a natural safety, but played mostly at corner last year as a true freshman. He played in all 12 games and started the Outback Bowl in place of Derek Ross. Fox, who had one interception, is a hard-hitter with speed to burn. During winter conditioning, he was clocked as the fastest Buckeye on the team in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.28 seconds. The experience he gained last year is sure to help him, but even Fox knows that he is just biding his time at corner until Mike Doss (5-11, 203, Sr.) and Donnie Nickey (6-3, 215, Sr.) graduate so he can move to safety.
Fox comes to OSU with a pedigree second to none. Four of his uncles (Tim Fox, Kenny Kuhn, Dick Kuhn and Mark Stier) played football for the Buckeyes and brother Derek played for Penn State and later for the Indianapolis Colts. In high school (Canton GlenOak), Fox was named first-team All-American by SuperPrep and was a first-team All-Ohio selection twice. He played strong safety in high school and was also a polished tailback, rushing for 1,351 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior.
Now let's look at the backups...
Harlen Jacobs (6-1, 190, So.) had a great spring and could very well find his way into the starting lineup. The OSU coaches have always liked Jacobs' size and speed, but this spring he showed the consistency they were looking for.
Bobby Britton (5-10, 180, Jr.) was expected to be a starter last year, but a groin injury kept his playing time at a minimum (appeared in seven games). Britton actually played in more games (11) as a true freshman in 2000... The '01 OSU media guide calls him "an excellent athlete with fine speed and quickness. Also a solid tackler and fierce hitter." That's pretty high praise. We'll see if Britton can live up to it, or even come close.
Youngstown State transfer Chris Conwell (5-10, 180, Sr.) came out of nowhere this spring to make a name for himself. Conwell is undersized, but has very good ball skills. He will provide solid depth.
Incoming freshmen EJ Underwood (6-1, 175) and Michael Roberts (5-11, 175) could find themselves in the mix. Word is that Underwood is a smooth cover man with excellent instincts. But will he be ready as a true freshman? Maybe. Maybe not.
Roberts enrolled at OSU in March and took part in spring drills. A sprained ankle kept the speedy (4.3/40) Canadian out of action for much of the
spring. He might be a good one down the road, but it's a little farfetched to think that he'll be able to step right in and contribute this year.
PREZ PAYS A VISIT
I was fortunate enough to be in the Horseshoe last week for President Bush's graduation speech. Dub-ya opened up by quipping, "They must be honoring George (Steinbrenner) and I today as legends of baseball."
The crowd approved with laughter, but the President's next statement is what
really brought the house down.
"I was fortunate enough to meet coach Jim Tressel today (crowd goes wild). He was kind enough to tell me about the success that the Buckeyes had up in Ann Arbor this year (crowd goes wilder)."
Well, Bush just lost Michigan for the 2004 election (Gore carried it in '00), but gained a whole bunch of friends in Ohio (a state he narrowly won in '00).
FYI: Steinbrenner, the owner you love to hate, is a big Buckeye fan. He bought a luxury box in the renovated 'Shoe and also donated the money for OSU's new band room, named after his wife Joan (an OSU grad).
And remember all that money that the Boss gave to Drew Henson to forget about playing football? That was a lot of cash for a guy who's never hit
above .230 in the minor leagues. My theory is that Steinbrenner simply preferred to see John Navarre as UM's quarterback.
E-mail Dave at email@example.com