Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant knows what it’s like to be in the spotlight — and then to be overlooked.
Now that he’s finally the starting middle linebacker for the No. 3 Buckeyes, he appreciates how far he’s come from acclaimed recruit to disappointment and now back to valued veteran.
“It feels real good,” he said this week during preparations for Saturday’s game against San Diego State. “Because you know others are watching and other people are counting on you. There’s nothing like having your coaches and teammates counting on you instead of feeling like you don’t have anybody.”
He certainly knows that feeling, too.
Expectations were already high even before Grant attended his first class at Ohio State. Maybe too high.
Grant, a fast and lean player out of Richmond, Va., was baptized as a five-star recruit and one of the top 10 high school seniors in the country. Before ever stepping on a practice field, he was compared favorably to the Buckeyes’ pantheon of great linebackers: Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, Marcus Marek, Pepper Johnson, Randy Gradishar, A.J. Hawk, James Laurinaitis and others.
Then he put on a scarlet-and-gray uniform and promptly disappointed everybody.
He didn’t play much as a freshman. He stuck around despite the NCAA investigations that led to a bowl ban and other sanctions. He considered his options, prayed, and said he was reassured he was at the right place.
Last year he started the first three games and then lost his job to converted fullback Zach Boren, who hadn’t played the position in four years.
“I got too complacent,” Grant said last spring. “‘That’s the only thing I can say. I couldn’t handle the glory, I guess, of being a starter. I should have kept working harder.”
His coaches were certainly mystified by why he didn’t put a headlock on the position.
“An honest evaluation is that [Curtis] still has a ways to go,” coach Urban Meyer said at the time. “That’s one thing that I push our coaches real hard to be as honest as they can with them. Don’t leave anything behind Door No. 2. I see him out there grinding and working. He knows his weaknesses and he’s trying to get better.
“I like his attitude.”
Once again Grant was counted on heavily during spring workouts and earned a starting job on a unit that had only six scholarship players and almost no one with his credentials and experience.
During the very first contact work of fall camp in August, Grant sustained a concussion that set him back again.
“I came through on a blitz and whoever had the ball I just wanted to kill,” said the chiseled 6-foot-3, 243-pounder. “That was kind of crazy on my part, but at the same time you need that crazy mentality to play middle linebacker.”
It took him a while to fight off the headaches and dizziness. In due time, he regained his starting spot and had a solid game (four solos, 3 assists, a tackle for a loss) in last week’s 40-20 win over Buffalo.
Now Grant, a junior, finds himself a mainstay of linebacker corps, starting between Ryan Shazier and Josh Perry.
“The great thing about it is Curtis Grant has come a long way — and I don’t mean just what he’s done on the field, but his maturity and how he prepares and things like that,” Meyer said before the opener. “I’m not worried about Curtis Grant, because his passion and his energy is what’s going to show.”
Even though he lost substantial playing time when Boren was moved over to take his spot last fall, Grant gleaned something from his replacement.
“Confidence-level was my major thing I learned from Zach,” Grant said. “He didn’t care how hard a task was, he just stepped up to the plate and did what he had to do.”
After shedding all the labels and hype, Grant is doing just that to show he may be ready to finally become the player so many thought he was destined to be.