Notebook: Ties To PSU, The Walk And More

Wonder how some Ohio State players felt about being recruited both by Penn State and the Buckeyes? Do you know the path opposing teams have to take to get to the field at Beaver Stadium? How many plays did Todd Boeckman know when he was almost called upon in the 2004 Alamo Bowl? The answers to these questions and more are in our latest notebook.

Ohio State and Penn State have more in common than a tradition of success on the gridiron. In addition to their now-yearly battles within the Big Ten, the two regional powers often cross paths when it comes to recruiting.

More than a handful of members on OSU's roster were recruited by both programs. A native of Beaver (Pa.) Area, junior tight end Rory Nicol said PSU's reach is not all-encompassing within the state. In his hometown, the school to beat was the University of Pittsburgh.

"Growing up, for me it was Pitt and then I guess everywhere in the state is Penn State," he said. "I don't know that those schools win like other schools in the Big Ten. Penn State has historically been a good program, but for a few years prior to me coming out they were pretty shaky."

Heavily recruited by the Nittany Lions, Nicol said he took several unofficial visits to Happy Valley but did not take an official trip. Current PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was his recruiter.

All along, though, the Buckeyes had an ace up their sleeves: Nicol's high school trainer was a former roommate of Doug Calland, OSU's head athletic trainer.

The game will be a homecoming of sorts for the Pennsylvania native, who said he will have several friends and family members in the crowd for Saturday night's game.

"It'll be fun to go back home," he said. "I'm going to have a lot of family there and friends from back in the valley that go. A lot of my parents' friends growing up were Penn State season ticket holders, so it will be kind of fun in that regard.

"I'm going to get a chance to go home, so I'm sure I'm going to have a lot of enemies in there but it'll be fun."

Nicol did not make the trip to PSU in 2005 as he missed his freshman season with a broken foot.

Junior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, a native of Piscataway, N.J., said the college to contact him was PSU, but he paid the Nittany Lions little mind.

"They were the first team to send me a letter, but I didn't like their uniforms," he said. "I never really paid attention to them."

While Nicol said he often got to see OSU's games on regional television, OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels – who recruits western Pennsylvania for the Buckeyes – said it has been easier to recruit the region since 1993.

"One of the things that has helped tremendously in western Pennsylvania is Penn State joining the Big Ten, because now these kids get exposure to the Big Ten," Daniels said. "Prior to that, a Pennsylvania kid would seldom see a Big Ten game unless it was a national game. Now, every Pennsylvania kid sees Big Ten football, whether it's Penn State or not."

Making The Walk There are lots of points to talk about concerning OSU's last trip to Penn State, but most players interviewed this week pointed to one aspect of the trip as being particularly memorable.

In order to access the playing field from the locker room, opposing teams are forced to walk through the crowd and between the concession stands.

"There are no ropes or anything like that to rope people off, so if somebody just wanted to grab you they could," Jenkins said. "Hopefully that doesn't happen."

Rather than let it intimidate him, OSU's top cornerback said the situation motivates him to play better.

"It was an experience two years ago, people cussing you out, spitting at you, things like that," he said. "It's something you're not used to but you can't let it bother you. You've just got to take it in and use it as motivation and let it elevate your play."

Located in its current spot since 1960, Daniels said the stadium was simply designed in a different era. OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said he can not remember any other stadium in the country where opposing players have to part the crowd to get to the field.

"It got me excited, to be honest with you," Heacock said. "It's an exciting walk. To me it was different, it was enthusiasm, it was fans who probably are no different than our fans are."

Strength Vs. Strength Some of the nation's top-billed linebackers will be on display when the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions take the field, but each team has its leader.

OSU has James Laurinaitis, while PSU has Dan Connor. Both are semi-finalists for both the Butkus Award and the Rotary Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top collegiate linebacker and top collegiate lineman, respectively.

One season ago, the two met onstage while touring the postseason awards circuit. This season figures to be more of the same.

"You just ask how they're doing and you say, ‘Hey, you had a heck of a year, best of luck and keep it up next year,' " Laurinaitis said. "That's all you can really say. You don't really know them but you have a mutual respect for a player of that caliber."

While watching film of the Nittany Lions, Laurinaitis said both he and fellow linebacker Marcus Freeman wind up paying as much attention to their linebackers as their offense.

After last season's game between OSU and PSU in Ohio Stadium, Laurinaitis said he went up and spoke with Connor following the final whistle. This year will be much of the same, he said.

"When you see other players at your position that are good and obviously being a football fan, a college football fan and a pro football fan, you have respect for people that are doing good things," he said. "He's definitely one of the best players in the country."

In other Laurinaitis-related news, his younger sister, Jessica, a highly regarded hockey player, plans to take an official visit to OSU in November.

How Close Was He? It was the least glamorous bowl game the Buckeyes have played in during the last five years, but OSU's 33-7 thrashing of Oklahoma State in the 2004 Alamo Bowl was memorable for a multitude of reasons.

But near the top is the Buckeyes' quarterback situation at the time. With Troy Smith suspended, Justin Zwick took over the starting role and threw for 189 yards and a touchdown. His primary backup was Todd Boeckman, who was in the final game of a redshirt season. Should something happen to Zwick, the OSU coaches were going to have to decide to burn Boeckman's redshirt to play in just one game.

Sure enough, Zwick suffered a hamstring injury in the second half and Boeckman began warming up on the sidelines. However, wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. stepped in and played quarterback, allowing Zwick to heal on the sidelines and return to the lineup for the next series.

As it turns out, the coaching staff had come up with offensive packages for both Ginn and Boeckman leading up to that game.

"Teddy got an opportunity to go in there because we had a little package for him," Boeckman said. "They had a package ready for me, just quite a few plays less (than the regular offense). (Tressel) told me they want to do what's best for the team and if that was put me in there or put somebody else in there, whatever it was."

However, had the score been closer, Boeckman said he believes his redshirt would have been taken off.

"You obviously always want to get in a game," he said. "I would've loved to get in there, but I knew my situation and I wanted to help do what's best for the team. I think we had a pretty decent lead there when Justin went down and but I think if it would've been a closer game I would have gone in there."

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