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As an escort of motorcycle cops split the omnipresent yarn ball of Los Angeles freeway traffic like the raised arms of Moses parting the Red Sea, Jack Mewhort looked out the windows of one of the luxury coaches transporting the Ohio State football team from its quarters in a posh Century City hotel to the practice facility the Buckeyes were using some 20 miles south of downtown in Carson, Calif.
Mewhort could hardly digest it all - California Highway Patrol in knee-high black leather boots and those nasty wrap-around sunglasses, sitting atop bright, white BMW bikes, a dinner at an upscale Beverly Hills restaurant, moving to the front of the line for the rides at Disneyland, fans and locals gawking and locked in on their every move.
"It was unreal - we got the star treatment everywhere we went," Mewhort said about the recent Ohio State Rose Bowl experience in greater L.A. That OSU star assumed a higher place in the college football sky after the Buckeyes went on to stop Oregon 26-17, winning a bowl game for the first time in four years.
Mewhort was an integral part of that Rose Bowl triumph, a fifth straight Big Ten championship, and Ohio State's 11-2 season - without ever playing a down.
As a highly-prized freshman who was held out of competition in order to further enhance his considerable strength and skills, and preserve his four years of eligibility, Mewhort got the benefit of every practice, meeting, training session, and film review, and even traveled with the team and suited up before games. The NCAA allows such "redshirt" developmental years, and Ohio State felt it had enough veterans and depth this past season that it could redshirt the 6-foot-6, 290-pound Mewhort, one of the top recruits in the country among offensive linemen.
Mewhort had completed his high school work at St. John's Jesuit and graduated early, enrolling at Ohio State a year ago and then taking part in spring football. Now that he has been part of the OSU program for a full year, Mewhort regards the 2009 season as a dress rehearsal for the rest of his Ohio
State career, which he hopes includes more Big Ten titles and more BCS bowl games.
"Looking back, I'm glad I did the redshirt thing now, but at times it was not very easy," Mewhort said. "You're a football player and that's what you love, so you want to play, but looking at the big picture this was the best thing for me. There's so much to learn, and I've had a year to be like a sponge, and soak it all up."
Mewhort played center, guard, and tackle at St. John's and was all-Ohio and all-City League as the dominant player in the trenches in most games. He was part of Ohio State's largest recruiting class since 2002 when the Buckeyes signed 25 players last February.
"We feel fortunate we were able to redshirt Jack, and now we'll have him around for four more years," OSU offensive line coach Jim Bollman said as the Buckeyes prepared for the Rose Bowl. "He's gotten a lot better, and shown us the versatility to play several different positions. Jack's a very valuable part of our future."
As they regroup for the 2010 season, the Buckeyes lose only seniors Jim Cordle and Andrew Moses on the offensive line, but Mewhort's high school coach expects the former Titan to be right in the mix when Ohio State starts to line up for spring ball in a couple of months.
"Now that Jack has a year under his belt at OSU, I can see Jack making an impact on the offensive line," St. John's coach Doug Pearson said.
"He has always been a very hard worker and I'm sure that he is excited to be playing at such a high level of football. When I watched him practice before the Rose Bowl, I noticed that his technique has gotten better since high school. He will continue to be successful, because of his attention to detail."
Mewhort, who often worked with the Ohio State scout team offense in practice, mimicking the opposition's attack, said those sessions proved very valuable.
"We went out there as the scout team and faced our No. 1 defense all year, and that helped me improve a lot," Mewhort said. "With our defensive line, I was facing one of the best groups in the country - guys who are going to be playing in the NFL - so you have to get better with that kind of experience."
Mewhort said that on game days he went through the same preparatory rituals as the rest of the team, and stood right in the sideline huddle as Bollman
communicated with the Buckeyes linemen during the game.
"On game days it was really tough, because there I was putting on my jersey and my pads and getting ready to go out there, but knowing I'm not going to be able to do anything," Mewhort said.
"But there was a ton to learn just by watching, listening, and experiencing the whole thing. I think this redshirt year has definitely made me a better player, and it will make me appreciate playing more. I'm living the dream, and it will only get better from here on."
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