Lukens In Line For Fullback Time

The names of most starters on the Ohio State football team are known throughout the college football landscape. Then there's Ryan Lukens, a walk-on linebacker who has been moved to fullback and is occupying the No. 1 spot during the spring. Lukens spent some time Thursday chatting about his luck and the opportunity to be in the limelight.

On a team returning 18 of 22 starters on offense and defense, it would figure that there would be scrutiny on the candidates for the four spots that need to be filled.

However, getting a Buckeye fan to pick Ryan Lukens out of a lineup might be a difficult task unless Lukens were wearing his scarlet No. 49 home jersey – with his name on the back.

But that's just fine to Lukens, who is serving as the No. 1 fullback after the graduation of last year's starter, Dionte Johnson, as well as senior backups Tyler Whaley and Trever Robinson. The chance to be in the running to start games, perhaps touch the football and block for a Heisman Trophy contender in Chris Wells had the fifth-year senior in a smiling mood when meeting with the media Thursday evening.

"It's amazing," Lukens said. "It's just a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'm excited."

That's not to say that Lukens hasn't already had his share of thrills related to Ohio State. He is the son of former Buckeye offensive guard and captain Bill Lukens (1974-76) and the nephew of guard Joe Lukens (1979-82), meaning he grew up with a Buckeye education the entire way.

"My dad was taking me to games since I was a little kid since he was a captain back in '76," Ryan said. "He's been taking me to all kinds of team reunions and stuff. I met Archie (Griffin) when I was like 4 or 5."

Lukens is a native of Lebanon, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio prep power Cincinnati Moeller before coming to Ohio State as a walk-on. Though the linebacker position at Ohio State is stocked, Lukens worked his way onto the kickoff coverage team last season, playing five games and making five tackles.

"It's not like anything else," Lukens said. "It's just a whole ‘nother game than high school. It's completely different. The adrenaline, especially at the night games, all the cameras are flashing. It's just like you're in a movie or something."

His role on special teams enabled him to get onto the field, but it was clear there wasn't much future for Lukens at linebacker. With that in mind, he went to the coaching staff after the Michigan game last November and suggested a position switch.

"It was before bowl practice," he said. "Actually right after the Michigan game I approached coach (Jim) Tressel and asked him what he thought about that move (to fullback) and he said that sounded like a good idea."

Lukens spent the weeks of bowl practice learning the plays and learning under Johnson, Whaley and Robinson. He couldn't have had a better teaching cast considering that both Whaley and Robinson moved to the spot before their senior campaigns, Whaley moving from center and Robinson, like Lukens, moving over from the linebacker position.

That move worked out for each, as Whaley became a dependable lead blocker by the end of the year and Robinson chipped in on the way to making three catches, one for a touchdown.

"I had three seniors to help me out, give me some pointers and stuff, basically just teach me the ropes," Lukens said. "They taught me pretty much everything I'm doing right now. I had three people to learn off of. It's nice.

"It was only 2 1/2 weeks, but it definitely helped out. I watched the film with them so they just pointed me out some tips. Basically they were like, ‘Whenever you have a question, give me a call.' They're actually still helping me out today."

Lukens will have to battle a hodgepodge of players to emerge as the starter in 2008. Walk-on Spencer Smith, the brother of OSU lineman Connor, also calls fullback his home, while the Buckeyes are toying with using another linebacker like Andrew Sweat or Austin Spitler at the spot, at least in practices, to provide depth. Cleveland Glenville product Jermil Martin will arrive in time for fall camp. The Buckeyes are also toying with formations that place a tailback at the position.

Lukens is getting help from those ball carriers. Lukens numerous times on Thursday said the tailbacks were making him look good, and senior Maurice Wells said Lukens has fit into the running backs room just fine.

"I think he likes it a lot," Wells said. "He's a football player so I'm sure he probably just wants to play where they put him."

And, of course, it's never a bad thing to be moved to a position that might get a chance to handle the ball a time or two. To that end, Lukens said he's been working on ball-carrying drills every day. However, he knows his calling card will be his ability to turn his 6-0, 238-pound frame into a heat-seeking missile.

"It's similar to playing linebacker," he said. "It's the same kind of collision. It's a little different reading-wise, but it's very similar to linebacker. It's not that hard of a transition I feel like."

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