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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jack Mewhort knows there is life beyond the Orange Bowl.
Beyond the palm trees and all-you-can-eat dinners at chic Miami Beach restaurants and rainy 75-degree days on the beach with his closest buddies.
"Perfect fat guy weather," he said with a laugh before Ohio State’s outing outside its ocean-side resort hotel. "No sun."
For one more day, though, Mewhort is savoring the final lap of an All-American career that surpassed his wildest expectations.
The plan for Friday night? Beat Clemson. Saturday morning? Who knows?
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"When we were leaving Columbus, they were talking about team meetings in January when they get back," Mewhort said. "I'm there thinking, ‘That's not me.’ That's going to be the weirdest thing. That's kind of scary. I haven't thought about after I get back."
Before the St. John’s Jesuit graduate prepares for the NFL draft — he is projected as a second or third-round selection — Mewhort and a veteran offensive line that coach Urban Meyer calls the heart of the team are bracing for one last challenge.
Mewhort especially will be tested, with Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley speeding off the edge. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior leads a defense that — while prone to the big play — leads the nation with 9.42 tackles for loss per game. Beasley’s 12 sacks are sixth nationally.
"He can run around you, or if he chooses to, he can take it right to you or take an inside move,” said Mewhort, a fifth-year senior. “He’s got a three-way go. He’s got a good motor. If you’re not prepared for him, he’ll get the best of you.”
If anyone will be ready, though, it is the Buckeyes’ front. A unit with four seniors — including guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley — and sophomore left tackle Taylor Decker cleared room for the nation’s third-best rushing attack (317.5 yards). For Meyer’s money, they are one of the best lines in Ohio State history.
"They're energy givers," he said. "They walk through that door and it changes practice. I saw that with our offensive line this year. They made Taylor Decker a very good player because he was not. I’m not taking anything away from Taylor Decker because he worked really hard, but it’s because he had no choice. It’s because of the pressure in that room."
That’s why he hopes next year’s line will not be the outsized question mark it appears. As it stands, only two players appear locks to start: Decker and guard Pat Elflein, who capably filled in for Hall the past two games against Michigan and Michigan State. (Hall is back in standing and expected to start after he was ejected for fighting at UM.)
Yet Mewhort is confident the legacy of this year’s group will endure in the play of reserves like sophomore center Jacoby Boren, senior tackle Darryl Baldwin, and freshman tackle Kyle Dodson. Coaches have used the 15 extra bowl practices to help develop the second-team line.
"I'm really not worried about the future of the offensive line here," Mewhort said. "I think it will be fine. Darryl Baldwin’s going to be leading the room next year, and he's going to be a great leader. I'm excited to see where these guys go."
So is Meyer.
"The good thing is there's some good talent," he said. "Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein they're ready to go right now, and there are some other ones we're real anxious to get in there and go. I like the development and the culture of that room.
"Usually when you see fast development of players, it's because of the culture of the room. The players see the starters. All you do is press play and watch Jack Mewhort practice."
Yet for one last night, the future remains on hold.
Linsley said he grew emotional thinking about his final game, saying the senior linemen are "taking in every moment that we can be together."
"We're all kind of soaking in this last week," Mewhort said. "It's going to be tough leaving these guys. These three other seniors are my best friends in the world. I love them, and I think that’s part of the reason we've been so successful as a unit. Off the field, we love each other so much that you don’t want to let each other down on the field."