By KEN GORDON
The transfer from Michigan is a vocal and intense player on the offensive line.
COLUMBUS — Justin Boren doesn’t want to be singled out. He’s a guard — anonymous by nature — and he just wants to quietly fit in with his still relatively new Ohio State teammates.
That’s why, as his intense, physical play raised eyebrows in spring practice, Boren refused all interview requests.
“A lot of guys stood out and did well in the spring,” Boren said. “I was just trying to work hard and earn a position and contribute to the team’s success. The fans should be excited about the whole team’s potential. I’m just a small part of it.”
But the thing is, he could be a big part of a rebuilt offensive line. And as much as he downplays it, he is different — and maybe just what the line needs.
A unit that has been viewed as underachieving and perhaps even lacking aggressiveness can’t help but get a boost from Boren, who brings an attitude and an edge that stood out in practices.
The Pickerington native and Michigan transfer is the type who “plays through the whistle,” a prototypical wide-bodied, hard-nosed guard who loves the scratching and clawing that goes on up front.
More than a few times in the spring, Boren was involved in minor scuffles.
“He’s a strong kid and I think he’ll add a dimension,” coach Jim Tressel said. “He loves football. He loves to compete, and he’ll sometimes wear his feelings on his sleeves, which doesn’t hurt.”
Defensive tackle Doug Worthington faced Boren daily in practice.
“Boren is so physical,” Worthington said of the 6-foot-3, 315-pound junior. “You see how big and how wide he is, but he brings it, and he brings it really quick.”
He is a lock to be OSU’s starting left guard.
This should not be a surprise to Big Ten fans. Boren was an honorable mention all-conference pick in 2007, when he started all 13 games for Michigan as a sophomore.
His father, Mike, was a linebacker for Michigan under Bo Schembechler and passed along his love for the game to his sons (Zach Boren, a fullback-linebacker, is an OSU freshman this season).
“I grew up in a football family,” Justin said. “My dad taught me all aspects of football at a young age. In peewee, I remember him yelling at me when I was 6 years old.”
Regarding his intensity and passion, Boren again prefers not to make himself out to be anything different or special.
“I would say I enjoy the physical aspect of the game, without a doubt,” he said, “but that’s pretty typical for an offensive lineman. I always have the attitude that I take pride in what I’m going to do.
“Of course, my job is to try and keep defensive players out of the play, and I take it personal if that doesn’t happen.”
Speaking of taking it personally, there were hard feelings surrounding Boren’s exit from Michigan. Boren left in March 2008, saying he thought the team’s “family values” eroded after coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Lloyd Carr.
Boren said he has not talked to any current Wolverines players since he left, but that he keeps in touch with former players, such as running back Mike Hart and quarterback Chad Henne.
He knows his first game against his former teammates will be a hot story line this November. There’s almost no chance Boren will be available for interviews that week, either, so this might be all he ever says publicly about it.
“My attitude is there are 11 games before that game,” he said. “I can’t let myself get worked up thinking about that game. I don’t want to take a chance of being unprepared for any of the first 11 games. The week that game gets here, it will be my primary focus.”