COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Over the course of his 28-year coaching career, Urban Meyer has learned that players like John Simon and Tim Tebow are few and far between. And not just because of the All-American talent that the former Ohio State defensive end and Florida quarterback possessed.
"Human behavior is driven by self-discipline and self-respect. That's fairytale stuff sometimes. Especially when you're dealing with 18 and 19-year-olds. I can sit back and think about the great players I've been around, who were actually driven by self-discipline and self-respect. Very few," Meyer said at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago last month. "But that's what makes John Simon so special. We use him all the time. Tim Tebow's another guy that was just driven by self-discipline and self-respect in everything he did. When you get a guy like that, it's not common."
And while the second-year Buckeyes head coach is yet to put Noah Spence in the uber-elite class of players he's coached, the terms in which he speaks of the sophomore defensive end certainly don't rule him out of what day joining it.
"When you tell your coaches to go out and find players, he's what you go find," Meyer said of Spence on Saturday. "He's a very, very talented guy with incredible self-discipline and self-respect. I love Noah Spence."
While Spence may have already proven his worth off the field to his head coach, this season will present him with his first opportunity to make a name for himself on it. Ohio State is replacing all four starters on its defensive line for the first time in 28 years, but optimism in Mike Vrabel's meeting room runs deep due to players like Spence and fellow five-star defensive end Adolphus Washington.
After recording 12 tackles and one 20-yard sack in situational duty last season, Spence stood out with a dominant sophomore spring practice season, which culminated with a three-sack performance in the Buckeyes' spring game. The Harrisburg, Pa. native carried that momentum into the first two weeks of fall camp, crediting effort and a better understanding of his playbook for his steady improvement.
"I'm knowing more about the defense and everything. All the schemes and everything like that. Being able to play faster because I know more about the defense now," Spence said. "I'm just trying to go real hard every play and not make as much mistakes as I did last year. Just giving it my all on every play is probably what's making me do better."
It also doesn't hurt that the nation's top-ranked defensive end prospect in 2012 has added approximately 25 pounds to his 6-foot-3 frame. Despite being listed at 240 pounds a year ago, Spence said that he played the majority of the Buckeyes' 12 games at 227 pounds, but now weighs somewhere between 250 and 253 pounds.
Despite the additional weight that he's now carrying, Spence is far from worried about losing any of his speed -- a trait that's expected to help define Ohio State's revamped defensive line.
"It's a lot more go get 'em, a lot more speed and everything like that, so that's a big difference," Spence said. "God willing, we'll be just as good, if not better than last year."
With Spence and Washington combining for seven sacks in Ohio State's spring game -- and positive reviews pouring in from Meyer and Vrabel -- the early indication is that the Buckeyes' defensive line could be just that. Asked if numbers like those are fair to project to the regular season, Spence's soft-spoken nature took over, but some of the confidence that could one day put him in the Simon-Tebow pantheon of Meyer-coached players also managed to seep through.
"I don't know. Sure," Spence said with an embarrassed smile. "Hopefully."