From quarterback Braxton Miller to defensive back C.J. Barnett, Dayton area natives play key role at Ohio State.
COLUMBUS — The Dayton area has always produced key football players for Ohio State. Whether it was Troy native Bob Ferguson helping lead the Buckeyes’ to the 1961 national championship or Centerville native A.J. Hawk leading the Buckeyes’ linebacking corps last decade, players from the Miami Valley have been crucial to Ohio State’s success.
It’ll be no different in 2013.
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller, a Springfield native and Wayne graduate, is perhaps the most important player on Ohio State’s team.
Miller had a school-record 3,310 total offensive yards last season and is considered a frontrunner for this season’s Heisman Trophy. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Miller wasn’t close to his potential playing ability last season and should be much improved this season.
Miller said during Ohio State’s media day earlier this month that’s he’s made strides in practice.
“The whole offseason I just worked on my fundamentals,” Miller said. “I’ve been working my whole offseason on getting things together.”
Miller’s not the only Dayton area native that will have a big impact on Ohio State’s team this fall. Vandalia native and offensive lineman Taylor Decker, Centerville native and defensive lineman Michael Bennett, and defensive back and Englewood native C.J. Barnett will start for the Buckeyes this fall.
Decker, a Butler graduate who’s entering his sophomore season, says there is a camaraderie of Dayton natives on Ohio State’s team.
“There’s always guys talking about whose high school was better,” Decker said. “C.J. (Barnett) went to my rival high school (Northmont) and we’ve talked about that a bit. But, I don’t really get too much into that… I try keep up on (Butler) a little bit when I can. There’s still guys I know — guys I played with — back there, so I try to keep up on them.”
Decker played in all of Ohio State’s games last season, mostly on special teams. He did play on the offensive line in four games.
“I was playing against John Simon and John Henkins, and they were kicking my butt every day (in practice),” Decker said of last season. “That was tough because they were amazing players. I just had to grow up and become a college football player.”
Ohio State is limited in depth on its offensive line. The Buckeyes have 13 scholarship lineman on the roster, including a couple of injured players.
“I think that even if we had a lot of depth, you always want to stay healthy because you don’t want to have an injury that could jeopardize playing time,” Decker said. “But it’s more of a concern this year since we don’t have a lot of depth. There’s definitely a lot of good young guys in camp so far that are getting reps and getting better.”
Decker said it’s fun blocking for a player with the talent that Miller has.
“Obviously, if you make a mistake, he can correct your mistake because (Miller) is a great athlete,” Decker said. “Obviously I don’t want to make that mistake or anything. But having that great player back there and knowing that if I do my job he’s going to get something done is a comforting feeling.”
Michael Bennett is entering his junior season for Ohio State after battling a groin injury for almost all of 2012.
“I’m not going to say I was hurt the whole year, but obviously, you just don’t recover from a groin injury very quickly,” Bennett said. “Last year was a rough year all around, but I’m just happy that at some point I was able to get back on the field and help the seniors go 12-0.
“Before, I’d say that last year was a lost year and I should have redshirted. But I look at it now and I see it as a good year to build myself up mentally. It was good to go through that kind of adversity and realize that I’m not bigger than the team. Whatever the team needs, I’m going to give them.”
Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said Bennett is emerging as a leader.
“He’s coming along,” Fickell said. “He’s come out of his shell a little bit. He realizes that his leadership and his ability to make others around him better is going to make the team better and make him better.”
Bennett has the most playing experience of any of Ohio State’s defensive lineman. The Buckeyes lose all of its starting front four from last season, including John Simon, who was the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year last year.
Sophomores Aldophous Washington and Noah Spence will start as defensive ends for the Buckeyes, while Bennett and Joel Hale will start as defensive tackles.
“I see a lot of passion on the D-line, a lot of love for each other,” Bennett said. “That’s not to say anything about last year’s D-line, it just feels a little different this year. We’ve got some young guys; all of us are pretty young.
“The big thing that (assistant coach Mike Vrabel) talks about is competing. No one’s spot is set in stone. We have some great talent starting right now, and great talent behind us. We have to make sure if we want to start every game, we have to bring it every practice and every rep. There’s so much passion, so much speed, and the technique is so much better this year. I’m really comfortable with it and really excited to see how we do.”
C.J. Barnett has started in more games than any other returning player on Ohio State’s defense. Barnett, a fifth-year senior, started nine games last year and had 56 tackles.
Fickell said Barnett could be the leader of Ohio State’s defense.
“He’s a warrior in the offseason and does a great job at all the workouts and things like that,” Fickell said. “I think the big thing for C.J. is being comfortable. He had to adjust to a new coaching staff last year after playing for three years under other guys. We’ve seen him become more comfortable with the new surroundings. We need him to be that positive leader at all times. He has that potential to be that. He’s one the few guys on defense I think that has that ability to be not affected by what’s going on around him.”
Trotwood native Cam Burrows, Centerville native Evan Lisle, and Middletown natives Rashad Frazier and Jalin Marshall are other area natives on Ohio State’s roster.
Ohio State opens the season on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.