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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: Hidden Gem
By Charles Babb
(From April 2006 issue)
When it came time for Aaron Gant of Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary's Preparatory School to make his final college decision, choosing Ohio State over Michigan, Michigan State, Washington, Illinois and others was not a difficult choice for him.
Gant had made an official visit to Ohio State on the weekend of Jan. 13 and verbally committed to head coach Jim Tressel and assistant Paul Haynes on Jan. 17.
"I really liked the program, the coaching staff and the 2006 recruiting class that is going to Ohio State this year," Gant said. "I saw everything I needed to see on my visit. It was great."
Gant obviously made a big enough impact at St. Mary's in his only year at the school to generate such interest from schools like Ohio State and so many other big-time programs. The closing of his former school, Harper Woods (Mich.) Notre Dame, necessitated the move to St. Mary's. His new school's storied football tradition attracted him there in a similar way it did to Ohio State.
"This was my first year (at St. Mary's) actually, I transferred here because my old school closed down," Gant said. "They have a lot of state championships under their belt and they make it to the playoffs every year, I do believe, and the coaching staff is really good here. So I made a really good decision by going (to St. Mary's)."
St. Mary's beat Birmingham Brother Rice the first time they met this past year to finish their regular season unbeaten and then proceeded to beat their league rivals for a second time a week later to win their Catholic League championship at Ford Field, the site of Super Bowl XL. But the Eaglets weren't able to complete the three-game sweep of the Warriors and fell prey to Brother Rice in the MHSAA Regionals, three weeks after their conference championship victory, to end their season at 11-1.
With his versatility possibly being his greatest attribute of all, Gant, at 6-0 and 205 pounds, led his new team in rushing on the season, compiling 829 yards on 149 carries and scoring seven touchdowns, and he was a stellar force on defense for the Eaglets with 42 tackles and two interceptions.
"I had a pretty good season I would say," Gant said. "I played linebacker and fullback this year. I usually don't play fullback but I had to do what's best for the team. I did play some at running back too so it worked out okay. And defensively I did well. I played linebacker and I played at safety too a little bit. So it went well."
Longtime St. Mary's head coach George Porritt certainly enjoyed having Gant in his program for just the one season.
"He's a hard-nosed young man and he has very explosive speed with a 4.55-second (40-yard dash time) for a safety," said the veteran coach who also doubles as the school's athletic director and even moonlights as the head basketball coach. "He was a big-time player for us on defense and he was an excellent running back also. He was the leading rusher on our team. He played a very integral role in the success of our team this year."
Porritt acknowledge that safety is probably Gant's best position at the next level but he also mentioned that Gant actually has the ability to play at a number of different positions in college if he needed to.
"He's a heavy hitter, and with his size and speed he can be a great safety, but he could also be a good cover man at cornerback and he could be a running back too," the coach said. "We play a 4-4 defense at St. Mary's and he was an outside linebacker for us, which is like a strong safety in a lot of other defenses. He's extremely talented."
Gant really likes the prospects of playing exclusively at safety from this point on.
"I'm a safety. I got recruited at safety and I believe that's where I'll be," he said. "I can play safety. I have the speed and I like to hit and I'm very competitive. My junior year I played safety and when I transferred here I played what they wanted me to play. I just like to play defense because it's the hype side of the ball and it's where the big hits come into play a lot. I'm a defensive player now."
Both Gant and his talented teammate Anthony Bowman spurned the big schools in their home state to go elsewhere. Bowman, who will be going to Iowa, was No. 7 on The Detroit News' Blue Chip List in the state of Michigan and Gant was No. 8. Bowman, who also checked in at number 20 on the prestigious Detroit Free Press All-Midwest Team, visited Ohio State on the same weekend with Gant and, for a brief time, thought about changing his commitment from Iowa to Ohio State.
"People respect my decision," said Gant, who officially visited only Washington and Ohio State. "Some people say I should have gone to Michigan and some people say that Ohio State was the best place. I just tried to look at what was the best for me, program-wise, and how I felt about the schools that I was looking at."
Gant claims that he really wasn't a fan of Michigan or anyone else, for that matter, while he was growing up, so that factor never really came into play in his decision-making process.
"I really wasn't a fan of anybody too much," Gant said. "I watched (college football) but I never really grew up a fan of anybody. I played football since I was in the seventh grade but I didn't really watch it closely until this past year."
In a way, it all happened so fast for Gant, who was offered by Ohio State on his official visit, committed to play for the Buckeyes a few days later and then officially signed his letter-of-intent just a couple of weeks after that. Gant inked his letter at his school on national signing day along with Bowman and Jonathan Misch, who opted for Michigan State.
"Signing day was straight. It was just exciting for me to sign the papers and know that I was committed there finally," Gant said. "Other than that, there was no big celebration."
Porritt had previously described Gant in other Michigan newspapers as being a "late find" and someone who "from midseason on, he just blossomed," and Ohio State was obviously the ultimate beneficiary of late-blooming talent.
"Ohio State came in after the season," Gant said. "Coach (Paul) Haynes, my DB coach, was recruiting me. At the end of the season, we started talking. I was a little shocked at first. I only had that one year that I (played like) that and I didn't know where I was going to end up or who was going to be recruiting me so it worked out great."
And now, Gant will put his recruiting hat on and try to help lure his cousin, Dionte Allen, and a few of the other talented juniors at St. Mary's, to Ohio State after next season. Gant, who wasn't a highly-touted prospect prior to his senior year, worked out much of last summer with Bowman, Justin Siller, the Eaglets' quarterback who was injured in the playoffs, and Allen to prepare for his breakout season. Allen helped convince Gant to come to St. Mary's when his school closed.
"You've got guys there like my cousin, Dionte Allen; Taurian Washington, the receiver; and Blair Hollis," Gant said. "They're all open guys. Justin Siller is an open guy, too. And Alex Delisi, so there's like five of them who are open. And Chris Mitchell is open, too. There's a whole group there."
Gant will team with Allen and few of the other speedsters at St. Mary's in track this spring with hopes of winning the school a state title that they thought they should have won in football.
"We're going to win it this year," said Gant who will likely run the 100, 200, 4x100 relay and 4x200 relay for St. Mary's. "We have a lot of speed and we're going to win a state title after all."
Only time will tell if any of his talented prep teammates, be it in football or track, will eventually join Gant at Ohio State. But for now, he couldn't be happier about the way that things turned out for him.
"I'm just happy to be a part of winning team like Ohio State and I'll have an opportunity to succeed there," Gant said. "Ohio State is the place I want to be."