Senior Retrospective: Todd Boeckman

With the 2008 football season over, Ohio State has said goodbye to a number of senior standouts who have been part of one of the nation's top programs over the past few seasons. With that in mind, we're running a weeklong series of Senior Retrospectives on the principal members of that group. Today's piece is on the story of quarterback Todd Boeckman.

To call Todd Boeckman's career at Ohio State a saga would almost be selling it short.

The St. Henry, Ohio, native spent seven seasons on the Buckeye radar from the time he committed in summer 2002 to his career ending during last week's Fiesta Bowl. Enough twists and turns have followed Boeckman to fill column inches across the state.

And to think that it all began in August 2002 when Boeckman gave his verbal commitment to the coaching staff to become a Buckeye, fulfilling a scholarship offer delivered before his junior year of playing under his father Tim at St. Henry High School.

But even that commitment had its share of intrigue. His taking his time to choose schools as the Buckeyes had a dalliance with eventual Notre Dame star Brady Quinn allowed rumors to circulate that Boeckman's offer was contingent on Quinn's plans.

Boeckman reported at the time that that simply was not true, and he eventually picked the Buckeyes weeks after Quinn picked his choice after looking close at Maryland and Pittsburgh as well.

"I just wanted to take my time and see if there was a better school for me, and I don't think I found that," Boeckman said. "I guess it's been my dream growing up, seeing a couple of St. Henry guys go to Ohio State. It's basically a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It's just amazing to me to get a chance to play for the Scarlet and Gray and a Buckeye for the next four or five years, whatever it is."

It turned out to be six thanks to both grayshirt and redshirt years that allowed Boeckman to become a captain and elder statesman on this year's team at the age of 24. And even though his starting job was usurped by Terrelle Pryor, Boeckman soldiered on in his role of captain until finally getting one final chance against Texas.

In doing so, he did exactly what he said he would do during the days before he arrived at Ohio State.

"If I get my chance to play I'm going to do my best to my ability, if it happens to be my last year, my junior year, or whatever it is," he said at the time. "If I get a chance to play, I'm just going to do my best to help the team out. I just want to compete hard and if I don't get to play (at all) then that's fine with me, too. Just having the opportunity to be in that uniform means a lot to me."

Those words wouldn't be much of a surprise to his father, who talked up Todd's leadership skills even during his time as a Redskin.

"One thing that he brings to the table as a quarterback is that he's got command," Tim said. "He's a great leader and he leads be example."

His leadership and character were first tested when the team's freshmen quarterbacks at the time, Troy Smith and Justin Zwick, were able to redshirt in 2002, meaning that Boeckman would be only one year behind them in eligibility. So Boeckman did what was best for all involved; he took a grayshirt, delaying his enrollment until 2004.

He still had the chance to take part in fall practice in 2003 and described it as a great experience. Because Ohio State had games before the 2003 autumn quarter began, he also had a chance to take the field wearing scarlet and gray for the first time.

"It was a dream come true," he said. "To talk out of that tunnel and see 100,000 fans cheering for you, it's a dream come true. I can't even describe it in words."

He did admit frustration with his plight, though.

"I'm just sitting there and I want to be on the field," he said. "It's really weird. I've played football my whole life, and now I'm sitting there not even in pads for a whole quarter, and I'm thinking, ‘What am I doing?' "

But Boeckman got through it only to find out that he'd spend the 2004 season wearing a different colored shirt: red. With Smith and Zwick battling for the starting role all season, Boeckman found himself the odd man out and on the bench for a second year in a row.

Still, he didn't allow that to frustrate him either, instead working to make the two players ahead of him better.

"I'm out there to push those guys to get better every day," Boeckman said at the time. "You never know what could happen. If somebody gets hurt, I would be in the line of fire. You don't want that to happen. But we're all here to compete and have fun.

"Last year, I came in and I really didn't know much at all. But over the summer, I've watched a lot of film and been studying. I think coming into the season I have a lot better idea of what's going on. I still know I have a long way to go. I think I'll get there within a few years."

His time nearly came in the Alamo Bowl against Oklahoma State at the end of that season. Smith was suspended for the game and Zwick suffered an injury early, bringing up the real possibility that Boeckman would play. Instead, electric freshman wideout Ted Ginn Jr. spelled Zwick at times as the Buckeyes blew out the Cowboys.

His chance did come during the first game of the 2005 season. The coaching staff gave Boeckman a chance with the Buckeyes ahead of Miami (Ohio), and he responded, completing 5 of 7 passes for 67 yards, including a 42-yard bomb to Ginn for a touchdown.

When asked afterwards if it had been worth the wait, he could only smile.

"I think it was," Boeckman said. "Seeing that first touchdown I think it definitely was. It just made it that much more exciting, just to wait two years and actually get a chance to play and you throw a touchdown, it's something else."

The wait would continue for Boeckman because he didn't throw another pass during the season, coming in for only spot action the rest of the way. As Smith grabbed hold of the starting reigns, Boeckman continued to toil as a sophomore, throwing just three passes and running for a touchdown in 2006.

But his time finally came five years after giving a verbal commitment when he went into the fall as the presumed starting quarterback and then held on to the job for the extent of the season while leading Ohio State to a national championship game appearance.

His campaign began with some advice from Kirk Barton, the loquacious right tackle who told the polite quarterback that he needed to take some more command in the huddle.

"He wanted to come up to me because I'm still getting to the idea of being a quarterback here, just getting settled in, but as I got more settled in I think I became more of a vocal person," Boeckman said. "It's just kind of nice, having a guy like that who's been around and has played for four years to tell me something like that. It boosted my confidence a bit."

He played the first 10 games of his career like a confident quarterback, leading Ohio State to an unblemished record while completing at least two touchdown passes in each game for a total of 23 against eight interceptions.

The last three were a mixed bag, as he threw three interceptions in a loss to Illinois, was largely ineffective in terrible conditions at Michigan and then had two touchdowns but two picks in the title game loss against LSU.

He ended the season having completed 191 of 299 passes for 2,379 yards, 25 scores and 14 interceptions. During the following spring, he displayed the mature, confident nature one would expect of a returning starter.

"I just feel more like a leader, more capable of handling this offense," he said. "I know pretty much everything that we're putting in now and how to handle myself. I feel so much more confident than I did compared to last year."

He also admitted that being in the spotlight was not his favorite thing in the world.

"I don't like to be that attention-getter," he said. "I'm more of a laid-back guy. I want to stay out of that spotlight, but it's obviously hard to do when you're a quarterback at Ohio State."

Unfortunately for Boeckman, the spotlight did not dim at all during the 2008 season; it became much brighter. After struggling against both Ohio and USC, Boeckman found himself clearly behind Pryor in the pecking order.

The situation was awkward for many, as Boeckman came out for postgame press conferences even when he did not play before quickly whisking himself away as interview sessions broke for one-on-one talks. Still, his presence was one of a captain inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center walls, his teammates said.

"It could be a distraction if Todd wasn't handling it so well," offensive lineman Jim Cordle said after Pryor's first start against Troy. "He's got a great attitude and a team player. He wants to see the team do its best. He was really happy with the way Terrelle played."

Boeckman's next extensive playing time came against Michigan, and he did not disappoint, throwing a touchdown to Brian Hartline. Afterward, he was happy to have made an impact in the historic fifth straight win against the Wolverines.

"To have five pairs of gold pants, that's something you'll never forget," he said.

He finished his career on a high note, making a number of plays against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. He threw a touchdown pass to Pryor and had 110 yards through the air while throwing no interceptions and also had a huge long pass to Brian Robiskie that kept alive a crucial drive.

Late in the year, Boeckman had a simple answer when asked what the fan reaction had been to his demotion.

"Just people saying good job on how you are handling the situation and things like that," he said.

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