COLUMBUS - When Antonio Smith intercepted a pass late in Ohio State's win over Penn State Saturday, a big cheer went up in the engineering labs on campus.
That was one of their own, cutting a well-calculated line into the end zone. Smith was an engineering major before he was officially a Buckeye, so that allegiance runs deep.
The senior from Columbus Beechcroft High School had to first make the football team as a walk-on in 2002. He did not make a single play that year, but he made the team. Then Smith made the scout team, then the special teams, and finally, earned a starting role as a cornerback this year.
"It's a great example of good things happening to good people," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
"Antonio came here on an academic scholarship, and with a lot of confidence in himself. Everyone said Antonio's a good guy, but he might never play here. He's been the best at whatever he's been asked to do. It just shows you that smart people with great passion, great toughness, can reach their goals."
Smith stepped in front of a Penn State receiver, then took the interception back 55 yards for the touchdown. A career defensive player who just this spring earned an athletic scholarship for his final season, Smith said the opportunity to score is something he did not expect.
"It rarely happens in a game," Smith said. "It's always a pondering thing in your mind, but when it happened, it was great. I heard [my grandmother] she almost knocked somebody out of the stands. She was very excited."
Sophomore cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said Smith is an ideal role model with his dedication to the task, and his engineer-like approach to football
"He is a hard worker and a smart guy," Jenkins said. "I see him in the film room all day, learning his craft. It has definitely been helping him, as you can see."
Tressel named Smith his defensive player of the game following the Penn State win.
"I've said quite often here in the last few days that it's one of those stories that you want a lot of young people to hear about," Tressel said.
"He's a guy that had a lot of support at home and a lot of passion to reach his goals. He's an outstanding student, works his way into some special teams, works his way into the nickel position and into the starting position and he's now one of the leaders back there in the secondary. And it's just, in my mind, a tremendous story. You have to get excited for guys like Antonio."
PRO STYLE: Ohio State freshman wide receiver Brian Robiskie is the son of former NFL player and current NFL coach Terry Robiskie. The younger Robiskie had a 37-yard touchdown reception against Penn State, and is third on the Ohio State team with 10 catches for 130 yards. He grew up around the NFL, and saw how it is done.
"It was a blessing for me to see the way the guys in the NFL practiced and worked on the field and in the weight room," Robiskie said. "My father always told me to never quit when I'm on the field. He has helped me so much by not pressuring me about football, but he is always ready to sit down and talk to me when I have a question."
PAIR PRAISED: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel usually avoids the superlatives, but not when talking about his duo of senior defensive tackles. Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson, the only returning starters from last year's stellar defensive unit, have Tressel gushing.
"As far as I am concerned, they are the best two defensive tackles in the country," Tressel said. "And in addition to being terrific players, they are both excellent leaders. Our front four is the strength of our defense and Quinn and David set the tone."
Pitcock is off to a big start with 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks through the first four games. He has 14 total tackles. Patterson, who had a career-high seven tackles against Penn State, has 13 this season, with two tackles-for-loss.
ACTING JOB: When Ohio State defensive back Malcolm Jenkins intercepted a pass against Penn State and took it back 61 yards for a touchdown, the replay showed that Jenkins entered the end zone alone, having spiked the ball one stride before he reached the end zone. Tressel joked about the gaffe this week.
"We do talk a lot about "Act like you've been there before," but you know, I thought about it, and Malcolm had never been there before," Tressel said. "I'd like to think that we'll learn from it and that won't ever happen again. We talk a lot about handing the ball to the official and find the other 10 guys that made it possible and celebrate with them, and apparently we've got to get better at that."
FLIGHT PLAN: The Buckeyes will leave Columbus tomorrow afternoon on a private charter, headed for Saturday's game in Iowa. Ohio State flies to Cedar Rapids, then travels by bus that evening for the 30-minute ride to Iowa City for an 8 p.m. walk-through in Kinnick Stadium. Ohio State will spend the night in Cedar Rapids, and the team plans to fly back to Columbus late Saturday night.
GRADUATION RATE: According to figures released yesterday by the NCAA, 55 percent of Ohio State football players graduated in the last six years studied. Federal calculations place the rate at 49 percent.
The study included 93,000 Division I athletes, almost all on scholarship, who entered college from 1996 to 1999. Nationwide, 77 percent of athletes in all sports graduated during the same period.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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