But now entering his junior season in Columbus, Small's career has not quite gone according to plan. Now, after nabbing 20 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore, Small has fallen from the good graces of the OSU coaching staff and is being forced to work his way back to the starting lineup.
As the Buckeye seniors selected teams for the spring game, a projector showing the apparent depth chart was displayed to assist in the selection process. There, in black and white, Small was listed as being on the second team and equal to sophomore Dane Sanzenbacher as the primary backups to junior Brian Hartline.
When the Scarlet team selected Hartline with the first pick among the wide receivers, the Gray team immediately countered by selecting Sanzenbacher instead of Small. The Cleveland Glenville product went with the next pick to the Scarlet squad.
Making things worse, Small saw his first action in what is apparently a long time during the team's jersey scrimmage April 12 and promptly rolled his ankle while blocking near the line of scrimmage.
"He's been trying to work his way back into good favor, good graces, get his car back, whatever," head coach Jim Tressel said following the scrimmage. "This was going to be his first chance to jump back in there. He's doing fine, football-wise."
Having been stripped of his usual No. 4, Small is now wearing No. 82 – although the spring media guide still lists him as No. 4.
When he will get his usual jersey back – or when he will resume his attempts to crack the starting lineup – remain a mystery.
"He hasn't been doing too much right now," senior quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "I don't know what the deal is there."
Always On Guard: Wearing the black jersey might protect a quarterback from some of the bumps and bruises associated with the position, but it also forces him to withstand a fair amount of verbal attacks from his teammates.
Case in point: Boeckman. Junior safety Kurt Coleman has seemingly had it out for the team's starter, openly expressing his desire to have the black jersey removed so he can hit Boeckman. Tressel, adamant about protecting his starter, obviously refuses.
Apparently, Coleman continues to lobby for his chance to put a hit on Boeckman.
"Kurt Coleman asked me today ‘When is Todd Boeckman going to have a red jersey on?' " Tressel said. "He always wants to hit somebody. I said, ‘The first time you'll see Todd in a red jersey is in the locker room on August 30, so if you want to hit him in the restroom, go ahead.' "
That restriction has not stopped Coleman from delivering one hit on Boeckman, however. Many players recalled the Clayton (Ohio) Northmont product drilling the quarterback so harshly on one play that Tressel yelled louder than he had at any point during the season.
Ever-vigilant, Boeckman said he is aware of Coleman's desires to inflict pain upon him.
"I can take him one on one here," he said. "He was talking a little bit before about how he wanted to get a shot at me to get my black jersey off. I had my black jersey on and he got me last year, so maybe we've got a little bit of a battle going on there."
That desire to hit players wearing black jerseys extends to other positions, however. After missing the entirety of 2007 due to injury, senior Curtis Terry is donning a black jersey as he suits up both at linebacker and fullback.
He, too, has had to face the verbal barbs from his teammates as he is off-limits when it comes to contact.
"They call me a girl and tease me, saying ‘what does that say about you?' " he said. "They tease me a little bit."
Still Recovering: Although official diagnoses remain difficult to track down, the injuries suffered by the team's three five-star freshmen offensive linemen who all enrolled early have been a disappointment. Rather than having all three Buckeyes in the mix for playing time this season, Mike Adams, Michael Brewster and J.B. Shugarts have all missed varying amounts of time due to injury.
But according to Tressel, perhaps the most discouraging injury along the offensive line is the one senior Jon Skinner has apparently not been able to recover from.
After undergoing surgery during the spring of 2007, Skinner missed the entire season. Earlier during the spring, offensive line coach Jim Bollman said Skinner had not yet taken a single live snap during the team's practices.
"You hate the reps that the new freshmen have missed, but they're learning a lot mentally with the film," Tressel said. "The only one that I feel really bad for that hasn't emerged is Jon Skinner. He just hasn't been able to come off that injury and I feel bad for him because it's his final year."
The prognosis for Skinner going forward is not good.
"I don't know about Jon," Bollman said. "He's way behind. I thought his knee would be snapping in there but he really hasn't done anything yet."