Five-Star vs. Five-Star: Can the Senior Hold Off the Freshman?

By Kyle Rowland on March 12, 2014 at 9:15a

College athletics feature a merry-go-round of talent, a constant carousel of new players. The phrase “out with the old, in with the new” fits college sports so perfectly that coaches could entertain its use on the recruiting trail.

Each February brings optimism with recruiting classes. Dozens of players are lauded with nary a hint of any shortcomings. Sooner or later, reality ekes its way into the picture. That stone-cold truth came three years ago for linebacker Curtis Grant, the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2011.

The sure-fire starter – at least that’s what everyone projected – didn’t start his freshman season. Grant was benched in favor of a fullback during his sophomore year and didn’t became a dependable first-team player until he was a junior. Mike Mitchell went through a similar phase last year and is now slated to transfer.

Hear that Raekwon McMillian? That’s not to dismiss the talented true freshman, but serve as a history lesson in how difficult it is to go from Friday Night Lights to the 105,000-plus seat Ohio Stadium. Of course, McMillan could be another Chris Spielman or Andy Katzenmoyer – an impact freshman who can’t be kept off the field.

“Everybody expects you to just be an unstoppable guy,” Grant said. “What they don't understand is that it takes time. Coming out of high school and then playing with grown men is totally different. Once you get adjusted, you’re fine.”

For now, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell is banking on Grant’s continued progression. The former five-star recorded 52 tackles, four tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery in 2013. Grant told himself it was now or never prior to last season. Those words are even more powerful a year later – and true.

“I think he is refocused,” Fickell said. “We need senior leadership. You’re best when your seniors play best. When they play really good, you’re going to have a good season.”

There’s an open competition at all three linebacker positions with Grant, fellow returning starter Joshua Perry and sophomore Darron Lee practicing with the first-team defense. It took Meyer all of one day to send barbs toward the defense and linebackers, which has become a common theme.

When Meyer challenges the linebackers and praises the unit’s youth, Grant embraces the challenge. It makes it easier to put in the work and exude confidence in front of coaches. The unpredictability of a new season keeps players alert and in sync with the action.

“We need senior leadership. You’re best when your seniors play best.”– Luke Fickell

“You always want to come in and get started right away, so when your number is called, you will be ready to go,” Grant said.

You won’t find the senior sulking about McMillan applying pressure or Meyer’s maxim of guaranteed playing time for the nation’s top incoming freshman linebacker. Instead, you’ll see Grant helping a teammate and hear him deliver similar plaudits. Welcoming competition only furthers team camaraderie.

“Raekwon McMillan looks real good,” Grant said. “He’s very talented and comes in here with a lot of things that a lot of freshmen don't come in with. When a guy comes in like that, that talented, you know it makes yourself want to work on your craft more and do the things that you need to do to get even better.”

Constant breakdowns led to a lack of production during Meyer’s first two seasons, and he noticed. So Meyer’s taking on a larger role on the defensive side of the ball, and he wants a simpler, faster scheme. You won’t find any players arguing.

“The easier it is for us, the less thinking we have to do, the faster we play,” Grant said.

A major part in his inability to develop as an underclassman was due to not picking up concepts. Grasping college football came slow. Grant lost confidence and his tentativeness on the field translated into uninspiring play. Combined with pressure, he was overwhelmed in the moment.

Now entering his final season in scarlet and gray, Grant is the voice taking over for the departed Ryan Shazier. The middle linebacker occupies the most important spot on defense, acting as the unit’s quarterback. Grant embraced that role the past two seasons, becoming a vocal presence in winter conditioning.

“The most important thing is we ask our guys to do their one-11th and play together,” Fickell said. “It’s not any different for the coaches. It doesn’t matter about titles. Coach [Meyer] has challenged us. For the last month, we have been in there and battling through things so we can be on the same page.”

Grant’s page has been flipped to the final chapter; one he hopes is filled with the potential that accompanied him on his journey to Columbus. 


Comments Show All Comments

stanton6's picture

Hopefully Grant lives up to the hype this year!  I would like to see him succeed, but not at the cost of having a liability in the middle.  I think it's going to be hard not to put Raekwon in quickly if Grant starts slow, and he may not get back in...


+2 HS
Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I think we'd all love to see Grant go out and tear it up his final season.  He has gone through a great deal of emotion and self doubt and it appears he has turned the corner physically and mentally and that will bode well for stabilizing the defense! 

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

+2 HS
Ahh Saturday's picture

“The easier it is for us, the less thinking we have to do, the faster we play,” Grant said.

This quote illustrates perfectly the main limit of numbers-based recruiting.  A guy's 40 time only tells part of the story.  Your speed is either hampered or enhanced by your understanding of the game.  A guy who thinks fast, who can instantly read a formation, and knows his precise responsibility against that formation can get to where he needs to be faster than the 230 pound guy who ran a 4.5 in shorts, but doesn't get the game of football.  When you have both, you get Ryan Shazier.

+13 HS
TMac's picture

"This quote illustrates perfectly the main limit"....ations of Curtis Grant


ONE Not Done!

+1 HS
Buckeye4life23's picture

Hope we see a huge improvement from Grant and Perry.  We really need them both to step up.

Muck Fichigan that is all.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Not a huge fan of the Grant vs Mitchell comparison. In Mitchell's defense he was sidelined early with an ankle injury and then transferred due to a sick father. Unless there's info that you have that says Mitchell transferred because he was unhappy with playing time I don't think the comparison is fair. Mitchell easily could've turned out to be a stud for us on defense. Grant has just struggled to learn the mental side of the game. 

Other than that I thought it was a great write-up. 

AndyVance's picture

I think the Mitchell comparison was simply that MM came in as a highly-touted five-star recruit expected to make immediate waves; while there was the aforementioned injury, it was reported more than once that his grasp of the college game and mental development on the field did not match his raw physical talent.

+5 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

I always thought the fastest, quickest to react, best hitter played the middle lb.  The second best lb. played the weak side.  To me the best three should be on the field most of the time.  Leadership starts by showing what you can do on the field that transcends into the locker room and off the field. You want something simple there it is the best three on the field.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

+1 HS
theopulas's picture

the best at what though....its not easy to find a guy thats simply the best at everything....stopping the run,rushing the passer, covering the back,reading your zone...and more....freshmen play less not because they are not as talented...


Ericgobucks's picture

I don't want to sound like a jerk...but to me the Curtis Grant ship has sailed. I am not sure what the upside is of having a guy in his final year who has been very inconsistent play. If they are close, I want to see Raekwon. If Raekwon isn't ready then play Curtis. I feel like there could be some "Senior bias" involved with some of these decisions. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's what it feels like to me. 

+6 HS
dwcbuckeye's picture

I tend to agree with your comment on "senior bias" to some extent and said so a few weeks back on another thread.  Something along the line that at times I don't feel we are playing the best player.  Many people disagreed with my comment at the time because it goes against basic logic but CAN be a part of human nature.  Fickel's comment about needing seniors to be the best is an example.  I don't say he is biased toward the senior necessarily, but I see it more as the safe choice for him to make.  Starting a true freshman would be a very bold move and subject to criticism if it did not work out.  Starting the senior is the expected choice and if it doesn't work out then you put in the freshman - no big deal.  You see this type of "fear bias" in all types of jobs.  This is the predominate reason most fund managers performance closely mirrors the S&P 500.  They don't want to look like a fool by underperforming, so they take less risks and don't achieve potential.

+2 HS
Kyle Rowland's picture

It's hard to say Grant's ship as sailed; he was productive last season. His first two years, no doubt, were disappointing. But there was improvement in Year 3, and one would think that will only continue going forward. McMillan is obviously highly regarded, but I'd be surprised if he could put up the same numbers Grant did last year. 

chirobuck's picture

you summed up exactly the way I was looking at it, he was better last year than the year before and if he can take another step forward he will be a good solid LBer, also he struggled in coverage but who didn't last year, having a new coach calling the coverage and implementing his system which sounds like is designed to be more simple should allow him to just play without having to overall I think he is going to have a solid season, but the leash should be short


^ best post ever ^

+3 HS
Ericgobucks's picture

I'll be the first to say i'm no expert, just an average fan. While he was serviceable last year, I did still see a lot of times where he looked slow to react. He did do a better job of plugging the middle in run support, but In my novice opinion he looks lost in pass coverage. I know Tressel really had a senior bias, which in 90% of the cases is a good thing and, to me, it seems as thought Fickell is holding on to this culture from Tressel. I also think Urban doesn't have that same philosophy. Urban even publicly questioned not playing Vonn Bell earlier. That sure seems like a jab at Fickell. 

+2 HS
bedheadjc's picture

Surprised?  I don't think it would be that much of a surprise if Kwan put up only 50 tackles in a full year of starting, I think it would be a surprise if he didn't put up 100.

Grant's 52 tackles at MLB is just pickup numbers. An average MLB could get 50 in a full season even if he was always second to the pile, you could easily get that with cleanup numbers.

Kwan, having never played a down of CFB, is better than an average college MLB.

saltybuck61's picture

The assumption that an average player would get 50 tackles in a full season of starting may be exaggerated, but it is reasonable. However, Grant got his tackles without starting a whole season. He missed several games due to injury. Also, towards the end of the season he did not play when Ohio State played spread offenses. 50 tackles with these circumstances isn't bad.

Also, I don't think that you can say that McMillan is better than the average college MLB already. Curtis Grant was an even higher regarded recruit than McMillan, and was he better than the average college linebacker his freshman and sophomore seasons? It is almost impossible to make an assumption about a recruit until he has played in the college game.

+2 HS
Canukbuck's picture

Don't confuse the "safe" choice with the "smart" choice.  One thing you didn't mention was the problem with playing freshmen too soon and risking the self-confidence of a player if he makes too many mistakes.  When a defensive tackle makes a mistake, there are people behind him to help.  When a linebacker screws up, especially in the middle, it affords a running back or TE the opportunity to run amok in the secondary (never good).

Also, in a position like MLB, defense is much more than stepping across the LOS and throwing a fit.  As the article states, there are calls to be made and keys to be read, which a senior can generally do much better and quicker because he's done it in previous games.  I don't believe that a Meyer's coached team doesn't do anything but play the best players regardless of status.  Von Bell is a perfect example.  While he did make a big play by picking off the ball against MSU, he also was beaten badly on a few plays.  No one on this board knows what he looked like during practice (which is generally where you are given an opportunity to prove your worth).  I like Bell and think he'll be a great player, but I'll yield to the coach's decision as to who plays and who sits.

+1 HS
Matt's picture

Not to nitpick, but Clowney was in Grant's recruiting class and he was the No. 1 recruit in the nation, by a wide margin.  247 Sports had Grant as the No. 23 composite recruit, whereas other services had him as the best LB prospect in 2011.

+1 HS
Buckeyeneer's picture

I remember him being a top 10 recruit overall and the best LB recruit.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

Matt's picture

247 liked him the least, had him in the low 40s overall.  Other services liked him as the best LB and a top 10 recruit.  247 seems to have been closer to the mark.

+2 HS
kmp10's picture

Grant was the number two rated prospect in the country in 2011, regardless of position, per Rivals. Number two in the entire country. Curtis Grant, as much as he points out that developing takes time and that there is much to learn as a freshman (generally true), has underachieved relative to his 5 star rating. Even if we discount the star rating (as the recruiting services are far from infallible) Grant has been an average player at best. Looking at the spring depth chart and seeing two of the starting linebackers being Grant and Perry doesn't do much for me. It isn't that I don't want Grant to succeed, but he's three years into his college career and he's been a very average player on historically bad Ohio State defenses. I'd rather see McMillan be the player who starts from day one. Grant, as an experienced senior, will play significant amounts of time, but I'm hoping McMillan starts, takes his lumps in September and early October, and by the back half of the season starts blossoming into the player he's been recruited to be.

Jdadams01's picture

I don't care who plays as long as they play well.

+3 HS
ek68's picture

When Curtis signed with the Buckeyes, I thought the middle lb position was secure for the next four years. Three years later and seeing Curtis play, I believe Curtis is below average & if Raekwon is as talented as the so called experts say, then he should be the  should be  stating in the middle.




+1 HS
BoFuquel's picture

Just another UM head game, Luke ain't gonna let it happen. Without an injury there will be no freshmen starting at Navy. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Hovenaut's picture

"Once you get adjusted, you're fine".

I'm fine with whatever adjustments Curtis Grant needs to make in order to fulfill on all that promise we all have hoped for.

Again, for the record, I'm hoping #14 is the starting MLB come August 30th. I'm eager to see McMillan as well, but it's not often you see true freshman step into that spot and perform at a high level - only Katzenmoyer and Spielman come to my mind.

+1 HS
d5k's picture

Is it possible we could see 1st and 2nd down LBs and 3rd down LBs?  I.e. McMillan comes in in obvious passing situations...  Grant could also drop down into a pass rushing role like Shazier on 3rd down some.

Squirrel Master's picture

I'm going another way and say that Kyle Berger will come out of nowhere and get some serious PT this year, unless his injuries slow him still. I think his read and react could be the best of all of them, senior or freshmen. McMillan is the obvious most talented and I have no doubt he will push Grant for starting at the middle, but Berger is a defensive QB.

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

-1 HS
keep_it_down's picture

I've had this discussion many times about many players. Members of my family who shall remain nameless are always quick to say "why isn't this guy starting" or "so and so was ranked as a 5 star why is not in?" Football I.Q. is a vastly underrated when people start about star rankings (IMO) and it's one of those things that is hard to judge which is why it's easy to overlook. The prevailing wisdom is I'm sure that if the recruit has all the measurable that he can be coached up on the I.Q. part, which doesn't always work or takes a little longer than most of us would like to see. I really hope that Grant blows up this year as it sure seems like he has put the work in and wants to succeed as much we here want him to.

Defending the boarder

Osurrt's picture

While I am not pro or con when it comes to Luke Fickell the coach........I think his comments reflect some concern that others have mentioned about seniority vs. talent. While I think tenure and dedication is an invaluable asset in the work outside the athletic the end of the day, it must come down to the best talent if we want to be in the Top 4 for both Championship series and Recruiting. This may have been what lead to several redshirts last year (not bad if they stay---Mitchell), but probably far worse when you burn a year with talent (Bell) that barely got on the field outside of blowouts or mop up duty.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I'd like to see Grant go out there and finally live up to the hype he came in with.  But at the same time, I just want to see the best players on the field.  If Raekwon is the best, then play him...same with Grant.  If they're too close to call, then the tie goes to the senior.

Grant did show significant improvement last year compared to 2011/12.  Maybe his continued improvement + a "simpler, faster scheme" helps him become that LB that we all envisioned back when he was recruited. 

Class of 2010.

wilkins0802's picture

Fickell scares me. It seems he shows that "senior bias" a lot with players. Just b/c the guy is a senior does not mean he should be playing. You cannot over look better talent just b/c a senior is ahead of the younger better talent. If McMillan truly isn't ready and Grant looks better than yes, but I think the decision has to be made beyond the shadow of a doubt. Lets be honest, and as we all know, Grant has not lived up to what he should have. If it takes you til your senior season to get to your potential, then you were never that good in the first place. I just see a scenario where McMillan wants to get in b/c Grant is struggling, and that line of "your time will come" comes out...thats how you lose good players to transfer or discourage them all together. I just hope Fick makes the right call.

Truth & Courage, 1-17IN, 5/2 SBCT


luckynutz's picture

Everyone is quick to lament a senior bias...but lets be real. It all comes down to understanding the scheme and responsibility. And the more that comes out about last year, its seems there was a real disconnect within the defensive staff. Separating the dbs by group...makes it had for them to come together as a unit on game day. Same with the coaches...they never seemed to be on the same page with anything. So if the coaches are having a hard time understanding each other, what makes you think a young guy who is secure trying to learn the scheme will understand it? Thats why you didnt see these kids las year...they didnt have a snowballs chance in hell. I think going forward you will see the younger guys have a better chance of playing early. The new coaches have made a point of making sure they are on the same page...or at least have come out and said they are working on the same page.

As to Curtis vs. Kwon...grant showed a market improvement from day one last year. And he did struggle down the stretch, but was dealing with an injury that lingered. Hes shown he has the passion and desire to work...and I for one hope he takes the competition and uses it to get better. And become the man. Not saying I dont want to see kwon play if he earns it. I want to see the best out there...dont care if its grant or mcmillan. I have a soft spot for curtis grant...dudes stuck it through the good and bad times. And hasn't lost his fire or passion for being a buckeye. Hopefully he is feeding off the energy of the young buck and working harder to keep his spot.

theopulas's picture

Tom Brady...1 year starter....his senior year

Barry Sanders....1 year starter.....the list is long.....


theopulas's picture

Tom Brady....Barry Sanders....1 year starers......the list is long......


Johnny-Shane_Utah-Falco's picture

I was really hoping Fickell would leave after last season.

Hate to say it, but as long as he's here --- the defense will be a liability.

The defense will prevent us from title hopes...again.

-5 HS
BeijingBucks's picture

of course this turned into a Fire Fickell thread?

None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license. ~ John Milton

+1 HS
OSU_1992_UFM's picture

Hell if they both preform at a high level competing with each other, why not try to put both out there and see how it works?

I mean it can't really be any worse than last year right? And yes, I know they are the same position

Spring football is like non-alcoholic beer.  It looks like what you want, but only intensifies your desire for the real thing--Earle

biggy84's picture

 It took Meyer all of one day to send barbs toward the defense and linebackers, which has become a common theme.

I agree with Urbz...this unit has been a major weakness for far too long. Time to get it fixed or find someone who can fix it. 

+1 HS
bigbadbuck's picture

Buckeye Nation isn't going to stand for another season of where are the linebackers? I think Curtis better get off to a damn fast start or he can spend most of it on the bench. Just my take!


Gentlemen, you can't fight in here, its a war room

+1 HS
phxbuck's picture

Can someone please tell me the last time an athlete didn't live up to the hype finally out of nowhere lived up to the hype?  

+1 HS
CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

The competition is good.  I think it's going to allow for the linebackers to finally step it up.  No matter who wins the spot, they should be ready to go come the fall.  Grant was a good player at times last year.  I think he only gets better.  If Raekwon is able to pass him then that just goes to show that he is an outstanding freshman.  I see see Grant playing quite a bit though if that does happen - rotations and special teams.  He's a guy we need to be good.

teddyballgame's picture

Hear that Raekwon McMillian?


buckeyehub's picture

We should be loaded with talent at linebacker with some returning and some outstanding recruits. Obviously Kwon will test Grant, and give him a run for his money, maybe even take it all. But Berger could come from behind them both and take it. Gonna be a fun one to watch.

“Anyone can run the option. I can run the option.” - Urban Meyer
Let's beat the snot out of *ichigan.

Seattle Linga's picture

Step up Grant - your time is now

sivaDavis's picture

People keep talking about the calls and reads that Kwon would have to make and how it would be a lot tougher to come in and play right away. He was doing that in high school. I agree that the mental aspect of the game is a bigger transition than physical but if they truly are making things easier for the entire defense that's just another helper for Raekwon. He's enrolled early, already built like a college linebacker plus he has Mariotti at his disposal and he has the attention of the entire coaching staff. I personally want Curtis to start off the season and get his chance to show his development. I've always been a big fan of his and if you've ever met him you'd know he is a humble, stand up guy who puts his team first. I wanna see the progression and his develooment but when will be truly know? Are Navy and VTech gonna give us a good look at what to expect from Grant? I say by the 3rd or 4th game is when we will know. Kent State could be when Kwon plays heavily along with the other young Bucks and has a bye week to prepare for Cincy and gets the nod to start if Grant hasn't blown away the coaches. We must know by then. Because I believe if we don't know by the start of B1G play, then Grant will be the starter for the year unless something unfortunate happens. I just can't see Kwon coming in and starting during B1G play. It'll have to be in that stretch I mentioned prior. I don't care who starts, hell I'd love to see some sets where they both are side by side in the middle. All I want is the Buckeyes to succeed. Plus it's only March... aloooooot of things will happen from now until August 30th

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

TraptnMI's picture

I would like to see Grant fill running lanes at the line of scrimmage, instead of seeing him react late and get met 7 yards off the ball by an offensive lineman and unable to shed the blocker. This drives me mental! BOOKER, RAEKWON and HUBBARD. My starting lineup.

" It's real good whatcha done Anthony, real good ! "

NitroBuck's picture

Personally, I hope Curtis Grant gets pushed hard for playing time by Raekwon McMillian, and that both have an outstanding season.  As I see it, Grant improved to the point of becoming a serviceable MLB last season.  I hope he becomes a great one this year.  I can't see laying a lot of blame on him for deficiencies in pass coverage last year, as I believe that there were endemic issues within the entire back-7.  At best, the coordination and communication was poor, with many blown assignments being the result.  Too many times last year the back-7 didn't look like they were reading the same book, let alone being on the same page.  Hopefully the coaching changes and new system will go a long way toward cleaning those issues up.

Ferio.  Tego.

OSUGoBucks414's picture

I'd like to see Curtis Grant, Raekwon McMillian, and Joshua Perry as the 3 man linebackers for the Cover 4 defense. Bosa, Spence, Bennett,  and Washington at d line, Doran Grant and either eli apple or armani reeves at cb, and safeties would be vonn bell and tyvis powell

I'm not trying to win popularity poles, I'm trying to win football games. -Woody Hayes