It was the first offensive play of the 2007 season, and the Buckeyes had plenty of new faces staring at each other in the opening huddle. Leading the way was quarterback Todd Boeckman, in his fifth year as a member of the program. He would be taking that first snap from new starting center Jim Cordle with the option of handing off to tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells, who might run behind right guard Ben Person – all starting their first games as well.
But the most pressure arguably fell on Boeckman, who was just a junior by eligibility standards. After all, he was the only one who was replacing a Heisman Trophy winner – and just the sixth person in OSU history charged with doing so.
Now a year older and a year wiser, Boeckman was asked what was going through his head as he headed onto the new turf at Ohio Stadium for the first play of the season.
"Butterflies," he said. "Nervous. I didn't know what to expect and I didn't know how to handle myself."
His performance did not belie those feelings, however. Lined up in the traditional I-formation, Boeckman faked a handoff to Wells and connected with wide receiver Brian Robiskie for a 16-yard pickup that moved the Buckeyes to near midfield.
Not that Boeckman has a clear memory of the play, however: He had to watch it on film the other day in order to properly remember it.
"I had so many things flying through my head," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. I really didn't see what was going on. I'm fortunate I completed the pass because I was so nervous out there."
The drive was capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass to freshman Dane Sanzenbacher. To that point, Boeckman was 4 for 4 for 67 yards.
It was a sign of good things to come. He would go on to lead the conference in passing efficiency and put together the fifth-most prolific passing season in school history. But it all started with one nervous huddle on a sunny afternoon in Columbus.
According to his target on that first play, though, Boeckman had demonstrated throughout the offseason that he was capable of leading the offense. That was visibly demonstrated when the ball was first snapped.
"It was supposed to go to somebody else and the coverage had rolled a different way and I was able to get open and Todd saw me," Robiskie said of the first pass. "I wasn't really impressed because I had seen Todd do that time and time again."
Robiskie was not alone in his assessment of Boeckman in that first huddle. Both left tackle Alex Boone and Wells said they saw no sign of nervousness on the signal-caller's face.
Now, one year later, Boeckman will again head into the team's huddle as the Buckeyes open up the season against Youngstown State. This time, though, he is a different quarterback.
"Since last year his confidence has grown a lot and he's gained the trust of all his teammates," senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "We know that he can get it done. Last year when he got back there I was licking my lips a little bit, like, ‘Oh yeah, Todd.' Now I've got to stay on my toes because he's proved that he can put the ball out there."
Boeckman and head coach Jim Tressel both acknowledge that there is still plenty of room for growth, however. Boeckman's numbers tailed off in the final three games of the season, and his 14 interceptions are tied for the third-highest single-season total in OSU history.
Tressel said his senior needs to simply work on his consistency – a fact Boeckman did not dispute.
"Maybe at the beginning I was standing in there and taking those hits and towards the maybe I got a little spooked," he said. "I don't know what it was, but I wasn't standing there, taking those hits and still delivering the football."
However, having spent the past eight months examining his mistakes and working on getting better, Boeckman is confident this season will look more like the first 10 games of the 2007 season than the last three.
And it all started with one 16-yard completion to kick off the 2007 season.
"I thought that Todd had made a lot of strides in the last offseason and I think that going into that game I saw a confident quarterback," Robiskie said. "I saw a guy that was ready to lead us and he did just that."