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March 8, 2013

Grant trying to avoid repeat of 2012

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At one point this offseason, Curtis Grant considered transferring away from Ohio State. And perhaps, understandably so.

After starting his sophomore season as the Buckeyes' starter at middle linebacker, the former five-star recruit finished 2012 on the bench, having started just three games before being bypassed by seniors Storm Klein and Zach Boren on the OSU depth chart. Parting ways could have benefitted both the Buckeyes and Grant, providing an open scholarship for the former, and a fresh start for the latter.

But while sitting at home in Richmond, Va. during Ohio State's winter break, the Hermitage high school product had a change of heart. Rather than switching his scenery, Grant opted to move to a new mindset for the remaining two years of his college career.

"It crosses your mind," Grant said when asked whether or not he ever considered transferring this past offseason. "Either you man up or get out. It's pretty straight forward. So I manned up."

If all of this talk about Grant's changed attitude sounds familiar, it's because it's similar to the praise that was heaped on him a year ago. After playing sparingly in his freshman season, the 6-foot-3, 241-pounder jumped Klein on the middle linebacker depth chart last spring, and figured to be a lock to play to play with the Buckeyes' first team defense after Klein was temporarily dismissed from the team in the summer.

Officially, Grant started Ohio State's first three games of the 2012 season, but in reality, his playing time was limited as he often came off the field when the Buckeyes switched to their nickel formation. Klein regained his starting spot upon returning from suspension, and Boren finished the season as the team's No. 1 middle linebacker after switching to defense from fullback midway through the year.

Looking unspectacular when he did play, recording just eight tackles on the season, Grant credited his sophomore struggles to the self-assuredness that he felt once named a starter on the OSU defense.

"Just being too complacent," Grant said when asked why 2012 didn't go as well as he hoped it would have. "Not handling the glory too well of being a starter. I should have kept working harder."

That complacency soon turned to anger. The second-ranked recruit in the country in 2011, Grant wasn't used to spending much time on the bench, which is where he has now spent the majority of the first half of his college career.

"I was real mad. I didn't know what to do. I would just sit back and just watch," Grant said. "It knocks your confidence down and your passion. You just don't know how to adjust."

Luckily for Grant, last year's OSU squad possessed the perfect role model for him in Etienne Sabino.

Like Grant, Sabino arrived in Columbus as a highly coveted linebacker, but didn't progress as quickly as many would have hoped he would, which resulted in him redshirting for non-injury reasons as a junior. Sabino bounced back to start the final two years of his college career, which is a path that Grant now finds himself hoping to emulate starting in 2013.

"Watching him, just being around him, that's like another one of my big brothers," Grant said of Sabino. "He's just smart. He would teach you the game in the film room and you pick up on those things and you come out here and you use it, and it works."

After an offseason of working with Ohio State strength coach Mickey Marotti, Grant believes that both his confidence and focus are where he needs them to be. The Buckeyes are in the process of replacing seven starters on defense from 2012- including two linebackers- and on Tuesday, Grant spent the first spring practice of the season running with OSU's first team defense at middle linebacker. The key now for him will be to hold onto that spot throughout the season, but Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell likes what he's seen so far from the junior-to-be.

"The will and the want-to has never been a question. It's just the ability to continue to mature. All these players have different things going on in their lives that help them mature," Fickell said. "I've seen some of the things he's gone through and I think this has really been a positive."

Grant, too, is confident that this time around will be different. The former blue chip prospect seems intent on holding onto a starting spot for more than three games, while proving that he was deserving of the five-star ranking to he brought with him to Columbus.

"I feel more like my old high school self," Grant said.

Whether that will be a positive or negative come fall, remains to be seen.



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