While ComFest swelled and the bars boomed and bounced in downtown Columbus this weekend, Braxton Miller chose to spend at least one of those nights throwing footballs to Jalin Marshall inside an otherwise deserted Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
On a Friday night.
It's far more telling than it is bizarre.
Because Braxton Miller, Ohio State starting quarterback and local celebrity or not, is still a college kid.
Because it’s a Friday night.
Because it’s June.
And it’s hard to fault Miller or for taking or wanting to take a brief step away from football for one fleeting evening.
But even with two months left until the Buckeyes kick off another campaign brimming with conference and national title hopes, these are the kind of nights that could separate coach Urban Meyer’s squad from good to great.
These are the nights that remind us Miller is Ohio State's impetus.
These are the nights where the senior can forge the foundation for a final season that’ll ultimately determine his legacy in Columbus.
Faced with a new-look offense that lost four veteran offensive lineman and its two other most productive skill players in former running back Carlos Hyde and former wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, he’ll command a talented, yet largely unproven, unit next season after flirting with the NFL Draft first.
It’s a sizable task for even Miller, the back-to-back Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
For Ohio State to maximize its potential next season, Miller will have to go from a quarterback to a field general. And while he's taken steps in that direction, the Buckeyes' upcoming campaign is a crossroads.
He seems to know it, and so does Meyer.
“The problem Braxton had is he never had a grinder in front of him,” Meyer said after the team’s annual Spring Game in April.
“If you remember his history, the normal progression of a normal freshman quarterback is to come in and play behind a monster … he came in, and we had the (former star quarterback) Terrelle Pryor issue and he left.
“All of the sudden, Braxton is the guy. That's not the way to do business, it's no one's fault. That set him back more than helped him because he didn't have a chance to prepare.”
Of course, Miller’s athletic gifts made him a near-instant sensation when he took over the starting quarterback job in 2011 after the school’s Tattoo-Gate scandal cost it former head coach Jim Tressel and a level of stability attained by few programs. Pryor left amid swirling NCAA violations and the Huber Heights, Ohio, native was cast into the fire.
Ever since, Meyer and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman have toiled trying to mold the potential Heisman Trophy candidate’s brain into a sponge fluent in the language of football. They want him to be able to impel others around him toward a common goal.
The physical talent is there. It’s always been there. And Miller’s made leaps and bounds of progress in respect to his craft while helping lead Ohio State to a 24-2 record over the last two seasons. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013.
Yes, Miller’s an elite athlete and arguably one of the most electric players in the game today.
But to be an elite quarterback and have a shot at making a living in the NFL someday, Miller will need to be able to talk football with NFL scouts like CEOs talk quarterly reports. He'll need to be able to lead grown men at the next level.
Fortunately for him, it’s a matter well within his control.
“He knows football,” Herman said. “He’s actually really football smart.”
But it doesn’t matter much if Miller can’t articulate such a level of intelligence.
“It’s the speaking the language thing that we’re working on with him so that when a GM or a scout or offensive coordinator comes in this time next year and puts something on the board that all that football knowledge can come out,” Herman said in March.
It should pour out onto the field, too. In some ways, it already has.
Because while spending a Friday night in June working out inside a muggy indoor field isn't glamorous, it’s smart. It's profitable.
Because even though it’s the weekend, Saturdays at Ohio Stadium aren’t too far off in the not-so-distant future.
Because even though there’s a million other things to do, this little token of overtime is reflective of a Braxton Miller who understands his incredible sway on an Ohio State team gunning for a return to college football glory.
“I believe he gets it now,” Meyer said. “He's a wonderful kid that wants to be great.”