All-Time Greatest – No. 8: Orlando Pace

BuckeyeSports.com has been counting down the days until Ohio State's 2008 season opener with its list of the 50 greatest Buckeyes of all-time, and we've finally reached the top 10. The series continues today with No. 8: offensive tackle Orlando Pace.

The most decorated offensive lineman ever to play at Ohio State, Orlando Pace was a star from the first time he set foot on campus during his freshman season of 1994. Had he not left early for the NFL and returned for his senior year in 1997, he could have been the first lineman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Simply put, he was just that good.

Orlando Lamar Pace was born Nov. 4, 1975, in Sandusky, Ohio, and became regarded as one of the top offensive line prospects in the nation long before his senior year at Sandusky High School. He was huge – 6-6 and 320 pounds – but still considered one of the strongest and quickest prep players at his position.

Playing both offense and defense during his senior year for the Blue Streaks, Pace earned first-team All-Ohio honors as a dominating offensive tackle and also recorded 80 tackles and six sacks while forcing two fumbles and recovering two others on defense.

A consensus prep All-American, Pace was the jewel in the crown of Ohio State's recruiting class of 1994. He briefly toyed with the idea of signing with Michigan, but when the Buckeyes were putting together a class that featured such future starters as Winfield Garnett, Eric Gohlstin, Dee Miller, Joe Montgomery, Damon Moore, Pepe Pearson and Jerry Rudzinski, Pace decided he wanted to join it.

From almost the first offensive snap of fall camp, Pace was a starter at left tackle.

His freshman season was an up-and-down one for the Buckeyes as the team struggled on offense in some games and on defense in others. The low point came in late October when No. 1-ranked Penn State put a 63-14 spanking on OSU that had many Columbus media outlets screaming for head coach John Cooper to be fired.

But the Buckeyes picked up the pieces from their Happy Valley disaster and won the last three games of the regular season including an emotion-filled 22-6 victory over Michigan. It was OSU's first win over its archrival since 1987 and Cooper's first victory at Ohio State over the Wolverines after seven tries.

The team lost a 24-17 decision to Alabama in the Citrus Bowl to finish a 9-4 season, but the victory over Michigan seemed to springboard the Buckeyes into the 1995 season.

That '95 team was an offensive juggernaut with Pace leading the charge up front for quarterback Bobby Hoying and tailback Eddie George. The Buckeyes rolled up a school-record 475 points that season against 13 opponents, averaging a whopping 36.5 points per contest.

They rolled to victories in their first 11 games, including a thrilling 45-26 drubbing of No. 15 Notre Dame in the first meeting between the two college football powerhouses in nearly 60 years.

Unfortunately, the season that held so much promise ended with a whimper. Season-ending losses to Michigan and Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl cost the Buckeyes what would have been a sure national championship.

Nevertheless, the OSU offense was honored for its banner season. Hoying became the first Buckeye quarterback ever to top the 3,000-yard mark in a single season as he threw for 3,269 yards and a then-record 29 touchdowns. Meanwhile, George was setting the all-time single-season rushing record with 1,927 yards on his way to winning the 1995 Heisman Trophy.

But both players credited the OSU offensive line – and Pace in particular – with their success. Pace earned first-team All-America honors and became the first sophomore ever to win the Lombardi Award as the nation's best interior lineman.

During his junior year, the Buckeyes had to replace Hoying, George and several other offensive stars, but they kept right on percolating behind Pace.

Switching quarterbacks to a tandem of Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine, Ohio State piled up 455 more points against 12 opponents, averaging nearly 38 points per game. They also set records by topping the 70-point mark in each of their first two games that season.

Again the team started on a hot streak, winning its first 10 games in a row, but Michigan once again derailed what would have been a national championship season, beating the Buckeyes 13-9. OSU got a measure of revenge in the Rose Bowl with a thrilling, come-from-behind 20-17 over No. 2 Arizona State, depriving the Sun Devils of the national title.

By this time, Pace had become one of the stars of college football. He had already made the "pancake block" part of the sporting lexicon as he would so dominate his opponent, they would wind up laying on their backs, flat as a pancake. He was credited with 80 pancakes during his junior season, but was much more than just a force at the line of scrimmage.

On many of the Buckeyes' long runs, Pace would lead speedy tailbacks and pick off helpless cornerbacks or safeties who dared come into his area.

After the 1996 season, Pace was again honored by being named to his second straight All-America team. He also became the first two-time recipient of the Lombardi Award and added the Outland Trophy as well, symbolic of college football's best lineman that season.

He was also a finalist for the Maxwell Award, given to the top college player regardless of position, was voted by his teammates as Ohio State's most valuable player and earned Big Ten player of the year honors.

Pace is only offensive lineman in the last 45 years to have been named conference MVP in the Big Ten.

When the '96 Heisman Trophy votes were tabulated, Pace finished fourth behind Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, Iowa State tailback Troy Smith and Arizona State QB Jake Plummer.

Pace would have been extremely tough to beat for the '97 Heisman and could have easily won the Lombardi and Outland awards again. But he elected to forego his senior season of eligibility and became the overall No. 1 pick of the 1997 NFL draft.

He was the first lineman to be selected with the league's top pick in nearly 30 years, and the St. Louis Rams have never been sorry. In most of his 11 pro seasons, he has anchored the left side of the Rams' offensive line, helping the team win Super Bowl XXXIV. He has made the Pro Bowl seven times and been named a first-team All-Pro on three occasions.

Pace, who resides in the St. Louis suburb of St. Peters, Mo., is extremely active in charity work in the St. Louis area. He has been involved in such organizations as the Diversity Awareness Partnership and was a spokesman for the Our Little Haven "Safe & Warm" shelter expansion project. Additionally, he donates Rams tickets to each home game to disadvantaged youths and spearheads the annual offensive line Thanksgiving project to serve dinners to homeless and low-income families.

He also owns "Big O's Ltd," a sports bar in his hometown of Sandusky and often stops by during the NFL offseason to visit with patrons, post for photos and sign autographs.

Yesterday: No. 9 Wes Fesler

Tomorrow: No. 7


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