COLUMBUS - Josh Huston knows he gets just this one shot. The bulk of the Ohio State versus Michigan memories he will carry for the rest of his life will be made tomorrow afternoon, on the tarmac of Michigan Stadium.
If patience is a virtue, then Huston, a senior kicker for Ohio State, is a candidate for sainthood. He has waited an awfully long time for the opportunity to hit a field goal to beat Michigan, kick an extra point to send the game to overtime, or play some other decisive role in the biggest game of this year, and every year.
"I have to admit I've been looking forward to this game for a really long time," Huston said, "and I'm excited that it is finally here. Every guy who has played for Ohio State over the years talks about playing in the Michigan game, and wanting to make a difference in that game."
Huston is a rare sixth year senior who was awarded extra eligibility by the NCAA since he missed two full years with injuries. After sitting out all of 2000 with a knee injury, he handled some of the kickoff duty in 2001 while working behind Ohio State standout kicker Mike Nugent.
A hip injury kept Huston sidelined in 2002, and he did not see any action in 2003. Last year, while Nugent was completing a record-breaking career and winning the Lou Groza award as the nation's top kicker, Huston saw very limited duty on kickoffs in two games.
"I got to kick off against Michigan back in 2001 when we beat them up there," Huston said. "I didn't play a big role in the game, but it was still a great feeling."
Huston said he has developed a deep understanding of the rivalry and an appreciation for the Ohio State - Michigan game from his time spent as an on-the-field observer.
"I've probably seen more Ohio State - Michigan games from the sideline than anybody else out there in uniform," Huston said. "Almost all of that time was spent just watching, but this year, I at least have the chance to be involved in the outcome. The atmosphere, the energy, the whole event is pretty amazing."
Huston, a Findlay High grad who leads the Big Ten in every kicking category, has hit all 39 of his extra point attempts, and 18-of-21 field goal tries (86 percent). His most valuable stat in a number of games has been his ability to handcuff the opposition on kickoffs. Huston has made 45 of his 64 kickoffs unreturnable by driving the ball deep into the end zone - and beyond.
"I'm proud of that, because field position is such a big part of the game and putting the ball through the end zone guarantees they won't bring it back," Huston said. "If the other team is starting on the 20 yard line every time, with this defense we have, I like our chances."
Huston, who is a semifinalist for the Groza Award this season, said his preparation for this game began a long time ago, but it intensified early this year when he learned officially that the NCAA would permit him to return and compete for a final season.
"I'm not going to lie - the thoughts about Michigan slip into your head throughout the year," Huston said. "Ever since I was sure I would be back for this season, that's' been part of my preparation. To go up there and to win this year would mean so much."
Huston, who played on the same high school team with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was his holder at Findlay, was an all-state soccer player for the Trojans, and still considers himself an athlete more than a football player.
"I know my role, and how important it is that I perform well in this game," Huston said. "All the time I've been thinking about Michigan coming up, then I think about my team is really going to need me, so I want to get really focused and try and do everything perfectly."
A number of times this season, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has cited Huston's value to the team, and his admiration for Huston for persevering through those two years lost to injuries, and finally getting a Michigan game that is all his.
"He's one of those real feel-good stories in college football," Tressel said. "Josh went through 2 1/2 years of injuries and adversities, and was always in the deep shadow of an outstanding kicker like Mike Nugent.
You have to really appreciate him sticking to it, and enjoy the great success he's had."39.96196 -83.00298