Big Stage Does Not Scare Pryor

When Ohio State takes the field tonight to face Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will deploy a freshman quarterback in Terrelle Pryor. According to those around him and those who have coached him, however, his age will not play a factor in the final outcome.

Once again, the spotlight was on Terrelle Pryor. As the nation's top overall prospect, he was the primary focus of the coverage of the 2008 U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Although Pryor had just led the Jeannette (Pa.) Jayhawks to a state football championship a few weeks prior, this game was a matchup of the top prep talent from across the country. There were no helplessly outmatched defenders who didn't belong in the same stadium, much less on the same field, as an athlete such as Pryor. Instead, it was the best of the best lining up on both sides of the ball in front of a national television audience.

But under the hot spotlights of the Alamodome in San Antonio in front of a record crowd for the annual game, Pryor was as cool as a veritable ice cube according to Robert Prunty, Pryor's head coach for the game.

"He's a real, relaxed guy," he told of Pryor. "I was telling one of the coaches, ‘I'll bet this guy's blood pressure never goes up.' The guy's just so cool and calm. He's just ahead of his years."

That calmness showed, as Pryor quarterbacked the East squad to a 33-23 victory and earned most valuable player honors in the process after rushing for 79 yards and a touchdown and passing for 76 yards and another score. Now, just more than 10 months later, Pryor is again facing a hostile environment he will have to face head-on: Camp Randall Stadium, home of the Wisconsin Badgers.

Ohio State, a senior-laden team, will enter the prime-time contest (8 p.m., ABC) with a true freshman running the offense in just his third career start.

If there is a player capable of succeeding in that arena, Prunty believes it is Pryor.

"If anybody can handle going to Wisconsin as a true freshman and being relaxed, Terrelle Pryor is that guy," he said. "He's the guy I'd pick if I had to pick a guy to go into a game like that."

Pryor's current teammates and coaches appear to agree with Prunty's assessment of the situation. From head coach Jim Tressel to junior tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells to junior offensive lineman Jim Cordle, it seems the Buckeyes have no qualms with having such a young player directing the show in what figures to be a hostile environment.

To Beanie, Pryor is more than just a freshman.

"I think everybody in this room has seen Terrelle play," he said. "He doesn't play like a freshman at all. To me, him being a freshman is irrelevant. He's going to go out there and perform and play hard no matter who we're playing."

That sentiment was hammered home during the summer when Pryor first reported to the Buckeyes. Although his role was far from determined, the freshman was reportedly preparing and studying as if he would be a featured player on the offense.

That work ethic impressed his new teammates as well as his head coach, who – like Prunty – praised his calmness.

"Now, maybe inside he was dying, who knows, but outwardly and performance-wise, he was calm," Tressel said. "Has he been perfect? No. Has he executed everything exactly right? Absolutely not. Every experience is going to be a valuable one for him and this is up another notch."

This will not be the first time Pryor finds himself on a big stage in front of the nation as a college football player. After seeing action in the season opener against Youngstown State and a few snaps one week later against Ohio, Pryor saw the first significant action of his college career on the biggest stage of the season: OSU's prime-time, nationally televised showdown with the USC Trojans.

Although the Buckeyes were blown out in that game by a 35-3 margin, Pryor provided the lone offensive spark as his speed and natural abilities forced the Trojans to respect his talents and blitz less.

"He has the height of a defense end, he has the speed of a defensive back and the agility of a wide receiver," said Prunty, who has coached nearly two dozen players who have gone on to the NFL. "I've never seen a guy with so many dimensions. People compare him to Vince Young, but I think in the next three or four years people will be comparing other kids to Terrelle Pryor."

All that ability stems from an ability to be calm, cool and collected in the pocket. But there is a fire inside Pryor as well, judging by his demeanor following OSU's victory against Minnesota on Sept. 27.

In his eyes, the game is simply another chance to prove what he and his teammates can do.

"People like (ESPN analyst) Mark May say, ‘Let's see how he plays on the big stage,' " Pryor said. "The media, ESPN people, sit there and talk stuff on our team and say we're dead. We'll find out this week coming up who's dead. We're out to show the world something, and we're going to."

Spoken like an upperclassmen. Now he needs to continue to play like one.

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