It was a game against Wisconsin that was supposed to be the first of many steps toward redemption in the disappointing career of Curtis Grant.
“This is, without question, a defining moment in his career," coach Urban Meyer said days before a primetime bout with the Badgers and their fearsome running attack last September.
Grant proved Meyer right: the middle linebacker filled the stat sheet with seven tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss.
But the night, a 31-24 win that gave Ohio State its 17th-straight victory, exposed the beginnings of a defense that would eventually come undone before the end of the season.
For Grant, it was a mirage of the kind of success that’s eluded him for the better part of three years. Ankle and back injuries hampered him the rest of the way and, in a position that lends itself to production, he finished with 52 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. It was regarded as another underwhelming year.
With his final campaign in the Scarlet and Gray looming in the not-so-distant future, this isn’t another story asking whether this is finally the year Grant puts it all together. It’s too late for that.
This is, however, a story about how Grant can salvage an underwhelming career that will surely end in a most unexpected way after coming to Columbus as a consensus five-star recruit out of Richmond, Va.
For even someone as strapping as the 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior linebacker, the weight of expectations have been incredibly heavy.
“Everybody just expects you to be this unstoppable guy,” Grant said. “But what they don’t understand is that it takes time.”
Which is true. But some in the fanbase have grown impatient. With the resources at a school known for churning out All-American and future NFL linebackers, Grant, who was supposed to ascend into Buckeye lore with them someday, is fighting for his starting job against another five-star recruit in freshman Raekwon McMillan.
Fair or not, he faces the possibility of leaving Ohio State as a bust. It comes with the territory.
That's why this can't be another story asking if this is finally the year Grant puts it all together because it's irrelevant.
In a career that’s been anything but storybook, it doesn't matter whether the figurative light bulb in his head pops on anymore. In this final season, he is who he is. And maybe, that’s not the five-star talent a group of somebodies decided he was.
“That’s just a label that someone gave you,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, it’s all about what you do on the field.
“If you come out here as a five star and you don’t do anything, then you look like an idiot.”
To say Grant’s accomplished nothing would be unfair. But he’s underachieved.
Lately, he’s an afterthought, too. People want to talk about McMillan; they want to talk about Joshua Perry, Darron Lee, Kyle Berger, Dante Booker and Justin Hilliard, who’s still in high school. They want to talk about the young talent and the future of a unit Meyer continues to lament over.
Grant’s playing days have come during a time that’s seen Ohio State struggle at a position that’s traditionally well-stocked and brimming with talent.
Grant was supposed to be the next great Buckeye linebacker. All along, it might’ve been an unfair expectation of a kid who didn’t get to choose how many stars he got by a recruiting service. He didn't ask for the expectations. They came on their own.
Grant probably won't suddenly blossom into the All-American talent some people thought he’d be. But his greatest asset to an Ohio State defense and a crop of young linebackers are his experiences, both good and bad.
“We need senior leadership,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said. “You can say what you want, but you’re best when your seniors play best.”
This isn’t another story asking whether this is the year Curtis Grant finally puts it together. He doesn’t have a choice anymore.