COLUMBUS — Two jerseys hang from the walls of Urban Meyer’s stately, wood-paneled office inside the Ohio State football complex.
One is the No. 15 of Tim Tebow — the larger-than-life former Florida quarterback who brought Meyer to tears before playing his final home game.
The other is the No. 54 of John Simon — the Bunyanesque leader of OSU’s perfect 2012 season.
Now, Meyer has a good idea of who’s next.
Sometimes, as he attempts to forge the bedrock leader of his 2013 team, he will take senior left tackle Jack Mewhort by his office and point to the shrine. He tells the St. John’s Jesuit graduate that could be him.
“I hope his jersey goes up there,” Meyer said after practice Tuesday night, “because he’s kind of that guy.”
As the Buckeyes opened spring practice last month, Mewhort’s place on the team was undisputed. He is the cornerstone of an offensive line that in the past year has meteored from a question mark to strength to the greatest certainty on a team with national championship ambitions.
But in recent weeks, Meyer has elevated Mewhort to a new plane.
He said he expected Mewhort to succeed Simon as the team’s galvanizing force, unveiled at a banquet in Toledo that Mewhort would be a captain this season, and told fans at a Pro Football Hall of Fame luncheon in Canton that he was reserving a place on his wall for Mewhort’s No. 74 jersey because the third-year starter is “one of the most selfless, toughest human beings to ever play the game.”
“That’s a pretty big honor for him to say those good things,” Mewhort said in a phone interview. “But I take it as a challenge. I don’t want to be the guy that lets these coaches down.”
Though Mewhort hasn’t always considered himself a leader, he said he came to live by a quote in the team’s practice facility: “Leaders aren’t born. They’re made.”
Coaches called him an unrelenting disciple of every aspect of the program — a commitment that only increased after Mewhort felt he let his teammates down last spring. (Mewhort and teammate Jake Stoneburner pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge for urinating on the side of a building in Shawnee Hills, Ohio.)
“He made one bad decision,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner told reporters. “We thought he was a pretty good guy before that. We were kind of shocked that that happened. But that’s the youth. He’s grown up a lot, he’s learned from that. Other guys have learned from that. He paid a price for it, but came back stronger.”
To the point now where no player’s voice is heard louder.
“He is a real pro at being in a meeting, paying attention, taking notes, asking questions, studying, lifting weights, doing extra, being on time,” Warinner said. “And he plays well, so everyone says, ‘I want to be like that guy.’ ”
Just like the guy whose No. 74 soon may hang from Meyer’s wall.
“I hope it is,” Meyer said. “According to [strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti] and what I see, he’s got self-discipline, self-respect, and work ethic. He’s guy that’s tough as nails. … Everything you’d want in a leader.”
TEMPERS FLARE: Meyer declared Braxton Miller “fine” after the star quarterback took a big hit from sophomore defensive end Noah Spence on an option pitch late in Tuesday’s practice.
But that didn’t mean Miller was happy about it. After lingering on the turf for about a minute, Miller looked for Spence on the sideline and had to be restrained by teammates.
“I like quarterbacks that want to go get in a street fight and get after it,” Meyer said. “That’s not probably the time to do it, but he’s a competitor. … I guess that’s better than the opposite of just curling up.”
Meyer said Miller aggravated a sore rib suffered in a recent practice.