Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, center, cleared out space next to Garrett Goebel, right, as the Buckeyes lined up to sing the alma mater following Saturday's season-opening win against Miami (Ohio).
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COLUMBUS -- Years before Garrett Goebel became a 290-pound nose tackle and captain of the Ohio State football team, he put on his hard hat for a different line of work.
Goebel spent his summer afternoons in elementary school not playing video games or whipping down water slides, but eagerly tagging along on construction jobs for his father's concrete business in Villa Park, Ill. The 9-year-old was one of the boys, pushing wheelbarrows filled with concrete and working the machinery.
"Garrett would come with me every day," his father, Greg, said in a phone interview. "He couldn't wait. Nine years old, I'd have him driving my Bobcat."
The story surprises no one.
At least those who have heard it. Befitting of a guy who plays a position that invites little glory -- he occupies double teams to let others make the tackle -- the fifth-year senior resides comfortably outside the spotlight.
You will not find Goebel's No. 53 among the eight jersey numbers fans can purchase at the Buckeyes' team shop, or find his name in most stories. The second-year starter is shy with reporters, glad to let the defensive line's bigger names get the ink.
Yet few players command more respect than Goebel -- the unsung star of a front that figures to be the No. 14 Buckeyes' biggest strength.
"He's really the apex of the defense," center Corey Linsley said. "He's strong and physical, but the biggest thing is that when he lets one of us off to the linebacker and he gets blocked, he really feels that in his heart.
"He really plays the position. He doesn't play it to get sacks or tackles. That's not really what the nose guard does. He plays for the rest of his teammates."
Those teammates recently voted him one of five senior captains, along with defensive end John Simon, fullback Zach Boren, linebacker Etienne Sabino, and running back Jordan Hall.
As the Buckeyes lined up to sing the alma mater in front of the band after their season-opening victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday -- a performance in which OSU held the visitors to minus-one yard rushing -- first-year coach Urban Meyer cleared out space next to Goebel. He draped his arm around Goebel's shoulder and later said, "I love that guy."
"I didn't know Garrett the first four months I was here," Meyer said. "He was kind of a quiet guy, didn't look real good when we were running around cones. But he plays really good as an inside guy. I love him. He's who we want at Ohio State. Just a tough guy, no-nonsense, who works hard."
That attitude has always served Goebel, from his days working for Goebel Concrete to winning the Illinois heavyweight state wrestling championship in 2007 and 2008. The defensive line suited his personality, though he had some things to learn when he first tried football as a high school freshman.
"He'd be taking the offensive lineman and doing some kind of wrestling throw to him, throwing him on his back," Greg said, laughing. "I'd say, 'Garrett, the ball carrier ran right past you. You've got to shed the blocker and make the tackle.' "
Goebel, though, proved a natural and developed into one of the top defensive line recruits in the country. He played in 39 games during his first four seasons at OSU, including 13 as a starter last fall, and proved his value to the new staff this season.
If Goebel was overlooked by fans -- he has 45 career tackles and one sack -- that was never the case among his teammates.
Goebel, a construction systems management major, said he was overwhelmed when he was voted captain, his face reddening when Meyer made the announcement in a team meeting. He then called home with the news.
"For what, like the first game?" his father recalled replying.
Garrett told him it was for the entire season. Meyer has permanent captains.
"Wow, that's awesome," Greg said.
Asked if he will begin making speeches, the modest Goebel stayed true to form.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm just trying to give everything I can, work as hard as I can."
It is the only way he knows.
EXTRA POINTS: Left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, was among the OSU players who graded as "champions" against Miami. "Three knockdowns, very physical, played very good," Meyer said. … Meyer grew testy on the Big Ten teleconference Tuesday when an Orlando columnist who has been the coach's most unrelenting critic asked about Florida fans rooting for Central Florida against Ohio State on Saturday. The columnist said Gators fans remain upset Meyer "left" UF for OSU. "Your facts are, not surprisingly, incorrect," Meyer said. "I didn't leave one school for another school."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.