COLUMBUS — Curtis Grant came to Ohio State with a five-star pedigree and a college-ready frame.
Rivals.com rated Grant as the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation — a coronation that seemed to assure success. Between 2002 and 2009, all eight players exalted with the same ranking became regular starters, seven left early for the NFL draft and four became top-15 picks.
Even in the arbitrary world of projecting high school talent, the 6-foot-3, 241-pound linebacker was a can’t-miss star.
Yet for Grant, the difference between hype and reality remains a canyon apart.
The junior begins his third year at OSU with a feeling of urgency he could not have foreseen.
His first two seasons, the former Parade All-American started only three games and endured an early benching last fall that made him question his passion for the game.
Now, as the most intriguing possibility to fill one of two open linebacker spots, Grant is back for what he sees as perhaps the final chance to prove himself.
“I’m very determined,” he said after the Buckeyes’ second spring practice Thursday night.
“Your junior year, if you don’t do anything, there’s no guarantees you’re going to have another year to do it. [This spring] is very big for me.”
Asked about Grant, coach Urban Meyer said, “Do we still have hope? Absolutely.”
Grant opened the spring as a starter, and it appears coaches will give him every opportunity to win back the job he lost after three games last year.
Other candidates to erase the question marks alongside star junior Ryan Shazier include sophomores Josh Perry, David Perkins, and Camren Williams — the son of former University of Toledo defensive tackle and 11-year NFL veteran Brent Williams — along with a pair of heralded freshmen set to arrive this summer.
But no option is as tantalizing as Grant.
Like those who anointed him in high school, the Hermitage, Va., native now admits he took his talent for granted upon arriving at Ohio State. This was a guy who had the strength of a defensive tackle, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, and led his team in tackles at the U.S. Army All-American game.
“People expect more,” Grant said. “But people don’t understand that college football is a lot different than just high school. You’re not the biggest guy no more, you’re not the fastest guy.
"You have to get up with the competition.”
He did not his first two years. During a freshman season spent on special teams, Grant said he spent too much time partying and not enough studying the game. And last fall, after he was named a preseason starter, he often appeared lost on the field.
“I got complacent,” Grant said. “I couldn’t handle the glory, I guess, of being a starter. I should have kept working harder.”
By the end of the season, when he was no longer an option at all, he was at a loss.
“I was real mad,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do. I would just sit back and watch, and I wasn’t used to that. … It knocks your confidence down and your passion.
"You don’t know how to adjust.”
After the season, he returned home for winter break and took stock of his career.
“I got a lot of me time to think about what I really wanted to do,” Grant said.
He decided he wanted to return and “make a difference.” Grant vowed to become a better leader, to play harder, and take the game more seriously.
He spends his nights now watching football tape with Shazier, his off-campus roommate.
“What I do now is instead of going out all the time, I’m either in the house watching film or calling coach Fick, asking if can he help,” he said.
“Everybody kind of matures at different times, and it’s not his lack of ability,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. “It’s just having some confidence, the ability to let loose.
"A couple years ago, [former linebacker] Etienne Sabino couldn’t get on the field, either, and he ended up redshirting going into his third year. Some guys just take a little bit more time to understand the game.”
Grant believes that time is now.
“Either you man up or get out,” he said.
“It’s pretty straightforward. I manned up so I can come back and help out.”
NOTE: Thursday’s practice was the last before spring break. The Buckeyes will reconvene for the third of 15 spring practices on March 19. The spring game is on April 13 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati because Ohio Stadium in Columbus is currently undergoing renovations, but will be ready for the fall football season on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.