Remember when Curtis Grant came to Ohio State as supposedly its next great linebacker? It feels like forever ago, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Or it might as well be.
After all, he’ll play the first game of his last season for the Buckeyes a week from today. And in that time, so much has changed to separate Curtis Grant, the five-star recruit, and Curtis Grant, the kid who hasn’t lived up to soaring expectations since signing a letter of intent to play for the Buckeyes three years ago. The journey from then to now has been hard. He’ll tell you himself.
Evaluate your career so far? “Average. Very average.”
Do you have something to prove? “Yeah, I kind of have a chip on my shoulder because I haven't lived up to what I wanted to live up to myself.”
These are the kind of questions Grant’s been asked over and over again for the better part of three seasons. So here’s a new one:
What would it take to make your senior season a success?
“Just to go all the way … And just have a great time. It's all about the time. If you don't have a great time and build something with the guys, it'll show on the field.”
Because at best, Grant’s senior season offers him a chance at closure -- not necessarily redemption. It seems too late for that. One successful season doesn’t suddenly vindicate the other three. His legacy is what it is. So Grant says he’s taken it upon himself to be a liaison between the past, the present and the future.
“The guys in the room need somebody to look up to,” he said, “so I'm not going to put them on the back burner thinking about myself.”
And generally speaking, thinking is what landed Grant here in the first place.
“I didn't have the confidence that I needed coming in and I was thinking too much, not playing the game,” he said.
There’s also apparently a correlation between thinking and confidence. The more Grant seemed to dwell on things, the worse he performed on the field and the less confident became.
“Curtis has always got the ability. There’s some things that we’ve seen, and some guys can say this and that about him, but the reality is when a guy’s not in a good place in his mind, it’s really tough,” co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said.
“Not to give Curtis an excuse or anything, but he’s had a lot of tough things that’ve happened and things haven’t quite gone his way since the day he walked in here.”
It’s a story that’s well-documented. Like how Grant nearly quit football after his freshman season, how he got benched after winning the starting job early as a sophomore, how he almost transferred because of it, and how injuries hampered the hulking 6-foot-3, 240-pound linebacker in 2013. So why is this season is supposed to be any different?
“His confidence level has really gone up,” Fickell said. “That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Added fellow linebacker Joshua Perry: “Right now, I think that he’s showing that he knows more than he’s ever known about the game. It’s ridiculous, he knows that he can play ball with the best of them and he gives us energy so when Curtis is having a great day, everybody else is having a great day,” he said.
“I think that’s also a thing with the guys on defense right now. When our older guys are playing really well, I think that we all play pretty good.”
And for a defense that lost former stud linebacker Ryan Shazier, he can’t be just a guy taking space up on the field. Grant needs to produce for the Buckeyes on the field and in the huddle. People are looking up to him.
“I tell you what, he’s a different kid. And I shouldn’t say kid, he’s a different man," Fickell said. "He’s battled through a lot of things, he’s got a lot of confidence in what he’s doing. He’s the passion and energy of that defense right now."
That's all well and good. But if Grant wants to evade being labeled a bust at Ohio State, he'll need to make good on that newfound poise and purpose.