A group of Buckeyes linemen were hanging out before practice
this summer when the conversation turned to visors. Sophomore
guard Rob Murphy and senior center Eric Gohlstin already had
dark visors on their face masks, and Murphy was trying to
persuade the rest of the bunch to follow suit. Murphy's mates
acquiesced, and within half an hour every offensive lineman was
wearing one, giving the unit a foreboding, Darth Vader
appearance. "We look pretty good," says freshman tackle Tyson
Walter. "Or at least as good as 300-pound guys can look."
The shields may obscure some faces, but it seems that no matter
who is wearing those scarlet-and-gray helmets these days, the
results never change. No school has supplied the NFL with more
first-round draft picks (12) in the 1990s than Ohio State, yet
even with all that talent departing, the Buckeyes have been 22-3
the last two seasons and finished in the Top 10 of at least one
poll the past four years. Despite having to replace Heisman
Trophy-winning tailback Eddie George, among others, last fall,
Ohio State marched to an 11-1 record, shared the Big Ten title
with Northwestern, beat Arizona State 20-17 in the Rose Bowl and
ended the season ranked second in the nation.
This year the Great Irreplaceable is left tackle Orlando Pace,
who didn't allow a sack during his last two years as a Buckeye
and was the No. 1 selection in the NFL draft in April. Ohio
State also waved goodbye to cornerback Shawn Springs, the third
selection in the draft; defensive end Mike Vrabel, a two-time
All-America; and four other players who were chosen in the
draft's first six rounds. In all the Buckeyes lost 14 starters
from last year's team, including eight on defense. Oh, and more
bad news: They have to play Michigan again.
Few of the replacements face as daunting a task as Walter, the
redshirt freshman who will succeed Pace. But the 6'5", 305-pound
Walter, one of three new starters along the offensive line,
hardly seems daunted. "This is why I came to Ohio State, to get
a chance to play early on," he says.
Walter joins an offensive unit that is loaded at the skill
positions with players such as quarterbacks Stanley Jackson and
Joe Germaine, tailback Pepe Pearson and wideouts David Boston
and highly touted freshman Ken-Yon Rambo. (He's comin' to get
you.) The larger questions concern the defense, which, without
Springs and the departed Ty Howard manning the corners, will not
be able to unleash its front seven with the same aggression it
did a year ago.
That's where middle linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer will step in.
After boldly requesting number 45, which was last worn by Archie
Griffin, Katzenmoyer last fall became the first true freshman in
school history to start every game at linebacker. He was the
consensus Big Ten freshman of the year and was voted first-team
all-conference and second team All-America. He enters this
season as arguably the premier linebacker in college football.
"He's got as much physical ability to play linebacker as anybody
I've ever seen in my life," says Buckeyes coach John Cooper.
"He's strong, he's fast, and he goes bear hunting with a switch."
In fact, Cooper is so smitten with Katzenmoyer's abilities that
he plans to try him at fullback in short-yardage situations.
With such a bevy of options at his disposal, it's little wonder
that the coach is so optimistic. "We probably lost more quality
players than any other team in the country," he says. "But the
cupboard isn't bare, I can tell you that. It's going to be a
good race in our league, and until somebody knocks us off, we're
still the champion."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER PEARSON WILL FIND A WAY TO GET HIS YARDAGE, EVEN WITHOUT THE DEPARTED PACE [Pepe Pearson in game]
5,261 Yards of total offense produced by players returning from
last year's team, which gained a Big Ten-best 5,285 yards.
TWO GAMES TO WATCH
OCT. 11 AT PENN STATE The Buckeyes have won the last two
meetings and need this one, their first key Big Ten game in '97.
NOV. 22 AT MICHIGAN Ohio State has won just one of the past nine
meetings. Last year's 13-9 loss cost the Buckeyes the national
Passing Stanley Jackson Sr. 87 comp., 165 att.,
1,298 yds., 12 TDs
Joe Germaine Jr. 80 comp., 147 att.,
1,193 yds., 15 TDs
Rushing Pepe Pearson Sr. 1,484 yds., 17 TDs
Receiving David Boston Soph. 33 catches, 450 yds., 7 TDs
Tackles FS Damon Moore Jr. 89
Interceptions Moore 5