T.J. Downing is one of four offensive linemen in Ohio State's 2002 recruiting class. And although that number could grow to six by signing day, Downing is looking forward to the competition.
"We have a lot of linemen coming in and that's a good thing," Downing said. "I love competition. It's something I never shy away from."
Downing sees himself playing tackle at OSU, but is keeping his options open. "I've always played tackle, but I'm versatile enough to make the switch to guard. It's wherever (offensive coordinator/offensive line) coach Bollman needs me."
From a conversation he had with Bollman, the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Downing is confident that he could see playing time as a true freshman. "With the lack of depth on the offensive line, I want to come in this fall and hit the ground running. Coach Bollman said there will be spots open on the two-deep. He said two guys could redshirt, but at least two (of the incoming freshmen) will be in the two-deep. My goal is definitely to be in the two-deep this fall," Downing said.
The Canton GlenOak product verbally committed to the Buckeyes June 22, 2001, just two days after leaving OSU's football camp.
"I was down there for the senior advanced camp and I loved it. I just felt real comfortable with everything. When they offered, it was a no-brainer."
It was? Even though Downing's father is a former player from the... gulp ...University of Michigan?
"It really was. Ohio State's coaching staff made me feel more wanted and respected than Michigan's. I think (Michigan) assumed that just because my father went there, I would too," Downing said.
So what did his father think when the final choice was made?
"He was excited. He was really impressed with Ohio State's coaching staff -- really impressed. My dad was great through the entire process. He told me from the beginning that it was totally my decision. There was never any pressure to go to Michigan. In fact, I think he wanted me to go to Ohio State."
Downing checks out the recruiting rankings from time to time and is proud that he'll be part of one of the nation's top classes this year.
"That's prime time stuff right there. We are ranked as one of the best and it might get even better. It's just a tribute to the great recruiting that coach (Jim) Tressel is doing."
Downing has spent time with most of OSU's '02 verbals, including the other three O-linemen -- Doug Datish, Rob Sims and Nick Mangold.
"I already consider us really good friends. We got to know each other on our official visit which was the first weekend of December. They brought in all of us and we had a great time just seeing everything and hanging out."
Downing already is close with his former GlenOak teammate, Buckeye defensive back Dustin Fox.
"Dustin and I are good friends. He is a hard worker and an incredible physical specimen. He's very gifted. It will be fun playing with him again."
Although he was a first-team All-Ohio selection at Division I GlenOak, Downing's senior year didn't go as well as he would have liked.
"We only went 5-5 this year. We shot ourselves in the foot a few times, but we were probably only a couple of plays away from being 9-1."
Downing said that coming from the football hotbed that is northeast Ohio definitely helped him get ready for the physical Big Ten.
"Nothing is better than Ohio high school football, especially in our part of the state. We played a lot of tough teams this year and although it's nothing like college, it was good preparation."
Downing saw as many Buckeye games as he could this year, including the big win over Michigan and the near-thrilling comeback in the Outback Bowl.
"That was a huge win up there in Michigan. I was really excited. But it would have been nice to win the Outback Bowl too."
Did he turn the TV off when the score was 28-zip?
"Oh no, I watched the entire game. I got a little depressed there for a while, but that comeback was awesome. It's just too bad they didn't pull it out."
Downing and the rest of the freshmen will be put on a workout program by OSU strength and conditioning coach Allan Johnson as soon as they sign their letters of intent in February.
"I'm expecting it to be very tough and I'm going to push myself to the limit. I want to be up to 290 by fall camp, but still keep my quickness (runs a 4.9 in the 40)."
This year's freshmen will report to camp about two and half weeks before the 2001 class did thanks to the addition of the Pigskin Classic in late August.
"Yeah, we'll be in there a little earlier, which is exciting."
The Bucks will play a 13-game regular season schedule in '02, the most games ever at the school. That number will jump to 14 if the Bucks make a bowl game.
"Just more chances to play," Downing said with a laugh.
Off the gridiron, Downing enjoys listening to music and playing recreational sports.
"I love music. I listen to everything from Metallica to Jay-Z... I really like to play basketball. I also golf a lot in the spring and play racquetball with my dad in the winter."
Downing holds a 3.0 GPA at GlenOak and said he "might" major in business at OSU. "I like the new business school," he said.
As for now, Downing just wants to take care of some personal business. "Until I get down there, I'll just be lifting a lot of weights and getting ready mentally. To play at this next level, you need to come in with the right type of mind set."
It sounds like T.J. Downing has just that.
Special thanks to T.J. and his family for the great interview!