Fresh Out the Box

By Chris Lauderback on July 30, 2013 at 2:00p
Warts and all, Maurice Clarett had a knack for clutch as OSU won the 2002 national title

For much of this offseason, Urban Meyer's latest crop of freshmen have enjoyed their share of hype collectively, though there wasn't a clear cut choice among the faithful pegged for first year stardom. 

Linebackers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell were once thought of as possible candidates to challenge Curtis Grant for a starting spot but once Urban gave Grant his blessing following spring drills, hype surrounding those two cooled a bit. Safety Vonn Bell was a signing day coup for Meyer and comes with all the bells and whistles that fans drool over but he's got a pair of seniors in front of him in Christian Bryant an C.J. Barnett. Eli Apple looked like a future star in spring drills but will also likely have to wait his turn to truly be an impact player. 

Offensive weapons Ezekiel Elliott and Jalin Marshall have also taken turns in the limelight thanks to freakish skill sets though the running back and slot positions are loaded with competition, tempering talk of either player being a truly dynamic factor as a freshman. 

That's not to say any and all of these guys may not turn out to be solid contributors as freshmen, it's more about the reality first year players don't often come in and immediately become irreplaceable stars of the team.  

An exception to the rule might be just off in the distance, however, as last week's Big Ten media days saw Braxton Miller and Christian Bryant rave about Dontre Wilson, a burner out of Texas who fell into Meyer's lap after Chip Kelly bolted from Oregon. 

Miller gushed extensively about Wilson, proclaiming he "better be starting" while Bryant added, "Dontre looks to be a special player."

The glowing endorsements from Miller and Bryant have turned Wilson into the overwhelming choice among the fans to be the freshman that emerges as a dynamic factor. 

So, does Wilson have the chops to be a game breaker right off the rip? Only time will tell. In the meantime, here's my short list of the greatest freshman seasons in the history of Ohio State football. If Wilson can approach the impact made by any of these guys, it's going to an electric fall in Columbus. 


Ginn Jr. might be seen as a bit of a reach by some since his overall offensive statistics weren't awe-inspiring but when I think about freshman impact players in Ohio State history, Ginn Jr.'s dynamic contributions in 2004 are tough to overlook. 

Teddy Gazelle returned 4 punts for touchdowns in 2004Ginn Jr. averaged 25.6 yards per punt return in 2004

The Glenville product came to Columbus as a five-star prospect known for his blazing speed and versatility. As a receiver, Ginn Jr. finished 2nd on the team with 25 receptions for 359 yards and a pair of scores –though still causing defensive coordinators to be aware of his whereabouts on every snap – but it was his work on special teams that earned him a spot on this list. 

Simply put, as a freshman, Ginn Jr. was the best return man in school history. Though he had just 15 chances, Teddy took four punts to the house, mostly in freakishly-easy fashion, and averaged a mind-boggling 25.6 yards per return. Again, just the threat of Ginn Jr. on the field forced opposing coaching staffs to alter their game plans which in and of itself is a major testament to Teddy making this list. 

Ginn Jr. beat Sparty all by himself tallying touchdowns via a rush, a reception and a punt return, added his a fourth punt return touchdown to set the school record in a win over Michigan and earned offensive MVP honors in Ohio State's win over Les Miles and Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl with 118 combined rushing/receiving yards and a score. 

Slotting Ginn Jr. 5th means I bumped Robert Smith's 1990 campaign in which he tallied a then OSU freshman record with 1,126 rushing yards and a ridiculous 6.4 yards per carry. I just couldn't get past the fact Smith had just eight touchdowns on a combined 187 touches (4.2%) while Teddy racked up eight touchdown himself, on just 55 touches (14.5%). 


Archie's arrival at Ohio State in 1972 just so happened coincide with an NCAA ruling that would once again grant freshmen varsity eligibility meaning fans wouldn't have to wait long for a taste of the Archie Griffin Experience. 

Griffin led Ohio State in rushing four straight yearsArchie blew up for 239 yards in his 2nd game as a frosh 

In of the weirder debuts in school history, Archie played just one snap in the season opener as he and quarterback Dave Purdy combined to fumble away a pitch but that play would be forgotten in game two against North Carolina. Despite being listed as 5th string headed into the matchup with the Tar Heels, Archie got a shot at redemption late in the 1st quarter and promptly peeled off 239 yards, scoring his first collegiate touchdown on his final carry of the day. 

With a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line against Michigan, Griffin scored what proved to be the game winning touchdown in a 14-11 victory over Michigan thanks to two huge defensive stands. 

Griffin led the team in rushing with a then school record 867 yards on 5.5 yards per carry and with his help, Ohio State captured a share of the B1G championship before taking it on the chin in the Rose Bowl against USC. 

Griffin's freshman campaign put the nation on notice as he would place 5th in Heisman voting as a sophomore before winning back to back stiff-arms over his final two years in Columbus. 


Strong as an ox, Pace became the first true freshman offensive lineman in OSU annals to start in the season opener way back in 1994.  Even more impressive, Pace accomplished the feat starting at the most important spot on the line at left tackle. 

Pace captured B1G Freshman of the Year honors as prelude to winning back to back Lombardi Awards and making a legit run at the Heisman as a junior. 

In the estimation of many, Pace was the greatest offensive lineman in college football history and while he wasn't quite at that level as a true freshman, he still gave fans a taste of just how dynamic a duo he and Eddie George would be in 1995. 

Blessed with amazing feet that helped him earn 2nd team All-Ohio in basketball as a high school senior, Pace was immovable in pass pro and without question the best downfield blocker you've ever seen.


Katzenmoyer's 5 TFLs in the 1997 Rose Bowl remain a school recordBig Kat: Posted 23.0 TFL and 12.0 sacks in 1996

Similar to Pace before him, Katzenmoyer became the first Buckeye linebacker to start every game as a freshman in 1996. 

With the Buckeyes already boasting a ton of talent on defense including guys like Mike Vrabel, Matt Finkes, Luke Fickell, Shawn Springs and Damon Moore, Katzenmoyer was plugged right in the middle of it all and turned in a record setting season. 

On the way to B1G Freshman of the Year honors, Katzenmoyer finished 2nd on the team in tackles and racked up the 2nd most tackles for loss in school history with 23.0 and the 3rd most sacks in Buckeye annals with 12.0. In fact, both those totals are indeed school records for linebackers. 

Katzenmoyer was white lightning roaming sideline to sideline and his five TFLs in the Rose Bowl win over Arizona State is still tied for the school record. 

With Katzenmoyer anchoring the defense, Ohio State finished 11-1 and ranked 2nd in the polls. 


Though he left a mess in his wake, I think Clarett's freshman campaign stands as the most important in school history. 

Despite missing three games due to injury and playing with a nagging injuries in a handful of others, Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns. 

Beyond the numbers, he brought a certain swagger that became infectious and his penchant for delivering in the clutch went a long way toward Ohio State securing the 2002 national title. 

Clarett's ability to use his off hand to shed tacklers was 2nd to none in OSU historyClarett wowed the nation with 175 yards in his debut

He burst onto the scene with a jaw-dropping 175 yard, three touchdown effort against Texas Tech and added 230 yards and two scores in an early season win over 10th ranked Washington State, running with a dogged determination on each and every touch. 

Clarett saved his most clutch performances for the biggest of stages. Against Michigan, with a spot in the BCS championship game on the line, Clarett talked Jim Tressel into calling his number on a wheel rout and Maurice subsequently hauled in a 26-yard completion setting up the game winning score. 

Playing for all the marbles against the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes, Clarett's strip of a Sean Taylor following the defensive back's interception of Craig Krenzel in the end zone allowed Ohio State to eventually escape what could have been a disastrous sequence of events with a field goal. The incredible play helped the Buckeyes stretch their lead to 17-7 midway through the 3rd quarter. 

Later, in the 2nd overtime, Clarett would score the championship-clinching touchdown, his 2nd of the night, on a five yeard plunge up the gut. 

Bottom line, Clarett's overall season and ability to produce in the biggest of moments makes his freshman season the best in school history. 


Comments Show All Comments

Chief B1G Dump's picture

As a student during 2002, I remember the buzz when Mo. C was named starter.  He really produced on the field and became such a key cog in Tressel Ball, from day one.  I vividly remember Texas Tech fans (what few there were) running their mouths before the game...then the collective jaw drops.
Mo. C. coulda gone out to mid-field and taken a dump and still won the Heisman if he played soph year.  There was so much hope for him.  It's just a shame.

GoBucksToledo's picture

Would that have been a "big dump" Chief?

MassiveAttack's picture

I see what you did there.  ;^)

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

droessl's picture

It might be oversimplifying things, but IMO, without Clarett (and the 2 plays Chris mentioned), we don't win that national championship.  For that reason alone, I still wore my #13 jersey amidst all Clarett's legal issues. 

hit_the_couch's picture

Ginn was a pretty dominant college player, especially since he lacked good route running skills.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

droessl's picture

25.6 yards per punt return is simply absurd

skid21's picture

Anyone know what Katz has been doing with his life after football?

BuckeyeUte's picture

Katzenmoyer is now owner of Katzenmoyer Performance, a training facility along with KP CrossFit also in Westerville, Ohio. He also serves as Strength & Conditioning Coach at his alma matter, Westerville South High School in Westerville, Ohio.

Stinson's picture

That's one hell of a list.

"The height of human desire is what wins, whether it's on Normandy Beach or in Ohio Stadium." -Wayne Woodrow Hayes

Buckeye06's picture

I still dream of OSU's back to back NCG wins if Mo stayed around.  No way we lose to Wisky with him in the backfield, and the Michigan game may have been close enough with the controversy to let the defending champions in

MN Buckeye's picture

Would love to see Dontre on that list.  Actually, it would be great to have several frosh step up and make a serious impact this year.  The talent is there.

Baroclinicity's picture

Are far as Katz goes, wasn't he so good out of the gate that they moved Bellisari to the outside to let him into the middle?  He not only started, he sort of unseated a senior at MLB. 

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

jmoore3309's picture

Bellisari was a rather under sized middle linebacker.  Part of our problems in 95 were because we struggled to stop the run at the worst times.  The ND game and TTUN were prime examples (sorry to being up such painful memories for those in my generation).  One Katzenmoyer got plugged into the middle that no longer became a problem.  

Go Bucks!

idontsmellgood's picture

MoC had one of the best highlight videos i have ever seen.

  He was not tackled for over 6 minutes!  IMHO, nobody in our current class can compare.  Hopefully Wilson or one of the other frosh can make this list in the future though.  I'm excited for this season regardless.  OH!

"This kid scares me a little bit because I've seen him on film drop back and ...boom, boom, boom." Tuberville moved his head, mimicking Barrett checking through his progressions. "That scares me right now. Has all week."-Tuberville on JT Barrett

MN Buckeye's picture

Thanks for posting the video, Smell. This brought great memories of smelling the turf at Mollenkopf Stadium during my four years at WGH. Mo C was a beast, a special RB. We may not see another like him for a long time.

RoyMunson's picture

That was incredible, I had never seen Mo's HS stuff.

pjtobin's picture

This was a great read. I love TOSU history. I still sometimes imagine what Mo Co could have done. I feel lucky to just have seen his one year I guess. What a beast he was. All 5 of these guys were/are. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Matt's picture

I'd lose Ginn and replace him with Pryor's 2008 season.  Began with spot time play while Boeckman was the starter, replacing him after the USC debacle.  Lead the team to an 8-2 record thereafter, with a close loss to PSU (on the heartbreaking fumble he needlessly caused) and a narrow loss to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl at the last second (on the Anderson Russell missed tackle).  Playing the most important position on the team, he threw for 1311 yards at a 60.6% completion rating, 12 TDs against 4 INTs, plus 631 yards rushing, 6 rushing TDs, and one receiving TD.  I know he's not everyone's favorite player these days, but the kid could ball, and didn't even have a legit position coach.  Ginn's frosh year was fun but doesn't come close to that impact.

tampa buckeye's picture

15 punt returns 4 tds. He was a threat to score every time he touched it.
Robert smith belongs in the top five. That team was terrible and he made it watchable.

Calgarybuck's picture

Nice call on Pryor, He was learning on the job from day 1.  The one thing I remember is him taking over vs USC and earning that teams respect, Made me giddy what he was going to accomplish during his time in C-BUS.  Sad that he indeed didn't have the best coaching or attitude at the end to make the most of his enormous potential.  
For what it's worth, I hate that Braxton gets compared to Pryor, Pryor was a way better scrambler but not the best on designed runs and they were different passers with Pryor having +arm strength! 
Just throwing this out there but imagine Pryor in Meyer's system, keeps me up at night knowing the window was there in 08-11 with how great our D was..but Tressel and his terrible offense ruined our chances.

Larryp713's picture

I really think Dontre has an opportunity to be an impact player like DeAnthony Thomas was for Oregon. Similar hype, I thought Thomas would fizzle and not pan out. I was incredibly wrong... that guy is sick. Similarly, Wilson is blessed with unworldly talent and an offense the completely opens up things for him. I really expect us to be talking about Dontre, even more than Braxton, before B1G play starts.
The greatest benefit of this is that even Alabama cannot totally sellout to stop him, when we have all the other weapons at coach Meyer/Hermann's disposal. Miller + 3 deep RBs + Brown/Smith/Fields, and all the new flyers, really makes this defense as close to undefensible as anything ever seen in college FB. I am setting myself up for major disappointment, but it seems to be set up for crystal in 2014.



avail31678's picture

I've said similar things in previous threads, and I'll say it again...WHO are opposing defenses going to cover or focus on?  Braxton?  Hyde?  Dontre?  Clark (possibly faster than Dontre)?  Jalin Marshall?  Not to meniton our current receivers.
I totally admit some of these guys haven't even put on a uniform yet, but sheesh!  Urban has WAY MORE than addressed the speed and playmaker issue we had last year. 

INTLBUCK's picture

Long time reader, first time "commenter".  Great story, great list. MC was certainly top on my list, who could also be near the top the list of "greatest blown potential" of a Buckeye, together with Art and TP. 

OldColumbusTown's picture

Just thinking off the top of my head and I cannot come up with an easy/quick answer (unless of course I am completely missing something).  Who is the last freshman at Ohio State to start the season opener?  At any position...

faux_maestro's picture

Probably MoC

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

AC1972's picture

MoC was absolutely the best running back thus far at tOSU.  Watching him run was just amazing, I was at every game that year.  I have no doubt he could have led tOSU to another National Championship and earned himself a Heisman.
Ah, what might have been, but I am blessed to have watched him run that one glorious year.  I'll never regret watching greatness firsthand.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Maurice was a man among boys even as a freshman.  He was amazing to watch.  Even if any of the freshmen coming in this year can come close to that it will be outstanding. 
Go Bucks!

BtownBuckeye's picture

I cant wait to see these freshmen so much speed and athleticism. Dontre is going to be something special

Hovenaut's picture

This list may be open to debate over the next few years as Urban likely has a recruit or two make as big an immediate impact as those listed.

Exciting times ahead.

kgab11's picture

I think a lot of people forget that Katzenmoyer asked Archie's permission to wear the #45. I also remember a lot of people being pissed off for him doing that. But he did not disappoint and people quickly accepted it. 

JLBNYC's picture

He burst onto the scene with a jaw-dropping 175 yard, three touchdown effort against Texas Tech and added 230 yards and two scores in an early season win over 10th ranked Washington State, running with a dogged determination on each and every touch

This article is linked above on the WSU/OSU game (Clarett with 230 yards).  Looks like they show a photo of Lydell Ross under a caption describing Mo in the SI article on the game!

bobby_gunz's picture

Robert Smith wasn't on the list??  More of an impact, i think, than Ginn or Katzenmoyer