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August 14, 2013

Expect the unexpected with Jeff Heuerman

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Entering his second offseason at Ohio State, Jeff Heuerman was slated to be the Buckeyes' third-string tight end, still stuck behind seniors-to-be Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel. But as Heuerman learned just a few months earlier -- and perhaps even years before that -- not every career follows the same script.

By the time the 2012 season rolled around, Heuerman was listed as Ohio State's co-starter at tight end, with Stoneburner having moved to wide receiver and Fragel converting into a right tackle. It may not have been expected six months earlier, but the Naples, Fla. native made his fair share of key plays throughout the Buckeyes' run to a 12-0 season.

"There's no career that's just absolutely perfect or works out how everyone wants it to," Heuerman said. "I lucked out last year, with Reid moving to offensive tackle, Jake moving to receiver ... I mean, who saw that coming?"

If there's anybody who knows a thing or two about following a nonlinear path, it's the son of a former Michigan basketball player who spent his eighth grade school year pursuing a hockey career in Manchester, Mich. It wasn't until Heuerman moved back to Florida for the start of his high school career that he played his first down of football, hardly showing the potential of the three-star prospect that he would grow to be.

"I didn't feel like living away from my family, so I came home, and my dad was like, 'You're not going to do nothing, so go try out for the football team,'" Heuerman recalled. "I signed up for corner. I didn't know any positions. I didn't know anything. I was like, maybe 6-foot. I hadn't hit my growth spurt yet. I hit my growth spurt the summer going into my freshman year. Now I'm like 6-4, 160 pounds, size 16 feet. I was running all awkward."

By the time his senior season at Barron Collier High School rolled around, Heuerman was a 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end with offers from nearly 20 BCS programs. But after signing with the Buckeyes and enrolling early in the Winter 2011 quarter, his college career soon took another unexpected turn.

Following a spring practice season that saw a cloud of NCAA violations and potential punishments hang over the Ohio State program, head coach Jim Tressel involuntarily resigned on Memorial Day 2011. Heuerman hadn't even played in his first college game, and he had already lost the head coach who recruited him to Columbus.

"When Coach Tressel first left, I had to sit back," Heuerman said. "He was a large reason I came here."

The rest of Heuerman's freshman campaign didn't get much easier, with a team trapped in turmoil turning in a 6-7 season that culminated in a Gator Bowl loss to Florida. The candid Heuerman admitted that 2011 was a trying time that left him questioning if he made the right choice in colleges.

"I'd be lying if I said no," he said, when asked if his freshman season made him wonder what exactly he had gotten himself into. "But at that point, you've already got a lot into it. You already have your group of friends, your best guy friends, you have your social life and girls and this and that. It's really hard to leave after all that. Obviously, it crossed my mind, but obviously, I had a lot invested."

Heuerman's investment paid off less than a year later, when he and Nick Vannett served as the primary tight ends on Urban Meyer's inaugural and undefeated Ohio State squad. The now 6-foot-6, 250-pounder tallied eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown, and caught a season-saving 2-point conversion in the Buckeyes' overtime victory over Purdue last October.

The adversity that the Buckeyes had to go through just prior to their 12-0 last season only made the team's place in Ohio State history sweeter for their sophomore tight end.

"It would've been tough if somebody would've told our recruiting class that you'd be going into your junior year and you'd only gone to the Gator Bowl," Heuerman said.

Memories like that are more of what Heuerman pictured when he envisioned what his Ohio State career would look like. But well aware of the different paths that one can take to get to a destination, Heuerman's learned not to expect anything more than what he can control.

"That's what my dad always says, just work hard and things will work out in the end," Heuerman said. "That's what happened last year and what hopefully will happen the next few years."

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