COLUMBUS - The club Antonio Pittman wants to join contains an elite group of individuals who perfected the real estate acquisition business. They specialized in the land grab.
Ohio State's football prominence has been inexorably linked to terra firma - Mother Earth.
The Buckeyes have gone out and conquered ground - step by step, yard by yard - by handing the ball to the likes of Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Keith Byars, Tim Spencer, John Brockington, Jim Otis, and Maurice Clarett.
And now Pittman, a 5-11, 200-pounder from Akron, is the man in the backfield seeking to carry on that robust tradition.
At the place where "three yards and a cloud of dust" became a sacred mantra, Pittman gets the football more than anyone else.
Only in this era of spread offenses and scoring jamborees, there is no more dust, and three yards just won't do.
"Running the football has always been a strength here at Ohio State, something this team did first and best, and then kind of built everything else around that," Pittman said.
"We want to bring the power running game back. We have had some great running backs here over the years - some of the best that every played college football - and it's an honor to follow them.
"When you're the running back at Ohio State, the expectations are high, and you have to produce."
Pittman played in 10 games last year as a true freshman, rushing for 381 yards in 73 carries, averaging 5.3 yards per run. He missed three games of his senior season at Buchtel High School due to injury, but still collected 1,300 yards, scored 17 touchdowns, and averaged more than 12 yards per carry.
"Antonio has the tools and the skills, and he is gaining the experience every day," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
"We've seen him mature and grow into the role, and he is just going to continue to get better and better. He can be a very efficient running back here at Ohio State."
Pittman was poised to move into the featured back position after last season's leading rusher, Lydell Ross, completed his eligibility, but Tressel made it clear in the spring that Pittman would have to beat out converted fullback Brandon Schnittker, freshman speedster Maurice Wells, and Eric Haw.
Haw took himself out of the running with a pot smoking adventure and remains a permanent fixture in Tressel's dog house as his two carries in six games will attest. Wells is still learning, while Schnittker's fumbles have limited his chances.
That leaves Pittman, but he clearly has not won the critical role with the Buckeyes simply by elimination.
"Tony has been great - outstanding," offensive lineman Kirk Barton said.
"We want to get back to Ohio State football - rushing for 300 yards a game - and he can help get us there. He's going to be our featured back for the next three years here, and he's going to run for a ton of yards before he's done."
Tressel was thrilled with Pittman's performance in Ohio State's 31-6 win over Iowa in the Big Ten opener this season. with 171 yards on 28 carries, Pittman had a day that, if repeated a couple of dozen times, will secure his membership in that prestigious group of Ohio State running backs.
"I like his energy level," Tressel said. "During the course of that Iowa game, the more he ran, the more he wanted it. He would run by the sideline and say, 'Get me the ball again.' You love to see that."
With 563 yards in six games, Pittman is averaging about 94 yards per game, and more than five yards per carry this season. His total puts him fifth in the Big Ten, but with 110 carries, Pittman has about half as many as Big Ten rushing leader Laurence Maroney of Minnesota (208).
"I feel like I can do 20, maybe 30 carries a game and still be fresh," Pittman said. "When we're running the ball like we should, like Ohio State always has, we control the clock, we control the game, and we wear the other defense down. I run off instinct, and I don't think about it while it's happening. You just have to run, and that's what I want to do."
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