By Ryan Buck
The falling temperatures and gray skies of late November mean one very important thing for two opposing, yet devoted factions of college football fans: Big Ten rivals Michigan and Ohio State will meet in their annual clash for gridiron supremacy.
For the undefeated Buckeyes (11-0), a victory over the hated Wolverines (8-3) in their final game will emphatically conclude a tumultuous 24 months that have seen the program rocked by scandal, the departure of beloved coach Jim Tressel, their first losing season in 23 years, the arrival of Urban Meyer, and sanctions imposed by the NCAA.
Their program will have come full circle.
The man who launches each offensive snap for the Buckeyes, a microcosm of the rejuvenated program, has already crossed that finish line.
OSU center and 2009 Boardman graduate Corey Linsley excelled in practically any youthful pursuit he attempted.
“Corey’s a well-rounded individual,” said his mother, Laurie. “He enjoys doing a lot of different things and has a lot of different interests.”
Former Boardman coach D.J. Ogilvie worried his potential star lineman preferred a future gripping a trumpet instead of a football.
“He was in the band and played football as a freshman,” said Ogilvie, now the head coach at Lemon Bay (Fla) High. “I remember the first time I saw him and thought there is no way we can afford to lose this kid to the band. You could tell he was going to be a very big kid and a good football player.”
Linsley burst into the varsity starting lineup as a sophomore and never looked back. He earned numerous conference and state accolades in anchoring the Spartans’ line of scrimmage.
As a senior, immersed in weightlifting and the technique demanded of the discus and shot put, he took home first and second place in the two events, respectively, at the state track and field finals.
“He was out there practicing all the time,” Laurie said. “When he has an interest in something and he has a goal, he works very hard to get it.”
A heralded recruit, Linsley arrived at Ohio State in the fall of 2009 with hopes of early playing time on a veteran offensive line.
“He loves the game and wants to be doing something right now and wanted to play,” Laurie said. “When he couldn’t play as much as he wanted to, I think he started to question his own abilities and what he should be doing, which is totally the opposite of what he should’ve been doing.”
After redshirting in year one, he descended down an uncertain path in years two and three on campus, according to his mother. Linsley needed to overcome a perplexing, apathetic attitude that cost him the first two games of 2011 for violating team rules.
Fortunately, the 6-foot 3-inch, 295-pounder found motivation in the advice of his parents and the clean slate offered by Meyer’s staff.
“It was definitely a combination of two points,” Linsley said. “It was my mom and dad talking to me about how they worked two jobs through college. It showed me a perspective of how rough it could be. I have it a lot better and I need to make the best of the opportunity. Along with that, it was Coach Meyer and his staff with (Strength) Coach Mickey (Marotti) and (offensive line) Coach (Ed) Warriner coming in and catching me at the right moment.”
Linsley thrived in the grueling offseason conditioning Meyer and Mariotti instituted in their first winter in Columbus.
“Through all the intense workouts we did and everything we went through this offseason, I was able to transform along with some other guys to earn a starting position and have a significant role on the team,” he said.
Meyer praised the economics major’s maturation as his new center bought into every aspect of the Ohio State program.
“I would have to say Corey Linsley would be on offense the guy that’s made the biggest jump,” Meyer told reporters in August. “Linsley’s gone from nobody to the apex of the offense. That’s the center, which in any offense — but particularly this one, the way we do things — that center’s got to be a grown man.”
Linsley’s responsibilities and enriched dedication are highlighted in the Buckeyes’ spread-option attack.
“Coach Meyer always puts a huge emphasis on the role of the center in the offense because, first off, it all starts with the snap.” Linsley said “If the snap doesn’t go right, then nothing goes right. I think that’s where most of the importance is derived because if you’ve got a guy there who doesn’t have the foundation of character and discipline, then the game could be really erratic.”
As for Saturday’s showdown, Buckeye fans expect Linsley to dominate the Michigan defensive line in the same fashion he’s handled the adversity early in his college career. He undoubtedly understands the game’s magnitude.
“Obviously the rivalry game speaks for itself. It’s a whole ‘nother game,” Linsley told ESPN during fall camp. “It’s The Game.”