When it comes to playing early, Ohio State is not often the place for offensive linemen. Line coach Jim Bollman likes it that way, and anyone not willing to believe it can ask Ben Person.
Though he both began and finished 2007 spring practice listed as the starter at right guard, it has been a long and arduous trip to the top for the young man ranked the top offensive lineman in Ohio when he was a high school senior in the fall of 2003.
While prepping for the 2004 Ohio North-South Classic all-star game the summer before he began his career as a Buckeye, Person told reporters he had designs on earning playing time right away, but that is not how it turned out. He took a redshirt instead.
Given those expectations, imagine the surprise that Person – then age 18 – would have felt if told he would not be in the running for a vacant starting spot two years later, either.
But that is reality, and an older, wiser version of Person told BuckeyeSports.com recently he understood just how things got to be that way.
“I wasn’t so disappointed by not getting a starting spot, but I was disappointed in myself because there were three guys for that left guard spot who got a chance during camp and I wasn’t one of those three and that kind of was a wakeup call,” he said. “I wasn’t disappointed in (Bollman) because I knew why. It was one of those things where at that point in time, they were better than me.”
The group competing to replace the departed Rob Sims consisted of Tim Schafer, Jon Skinner and Steve Rehring, the eventual starter.
Rather than to sulk about the setback, Person chose to step up his own game.
“I spent a lot of time with Joe Rudolph, who was a strength coach and now is the tight ends coach at Nebraska. I spent a lot of time with him before and after practice trying to refine technique and skills and learn new things to watch for.”
Despite the high regard recruiting services had for the 6-4, 315-pound Person, he came to Ohio State far from a finished product, largely because the modified wing-T offense in which he played at Xenia High School emphasized the running game.
“If I was pass blocking, I was more of a downblocker on a nose or defensive tackle,” Person said. “We didn’t do any just drop steps, so that’s something I had to learn when I got here, and it took me a while.”
The combination of needing to pick up such an essential skill along with the complications of a college offense conspired to keep Person on the bench. He described his time since arriving on campus as “learning the big picture of football.”
That includes make pre-snap reads and adjusting to what a defense is doing across the line of scrimmage.
“There’s a lot for us to learn. For an O-lineman to come in here and play as a freshman, they’re either a phenomenal player or just brilliant,” he said. “More often than not, they’re just a phenomenal player.”
Despite Person’s stated goals for early playing time, he knew what he was getting into. The message came straight from Bollman’s mouth.
“He told me that during recruiting. He said for him, he’d love to have 15 or so guys on scholarship and none would play until their third year,” Person said. “Every now and then you might have a freak or a phenomenal player that comes in, but that’s just how he said he’d love to have it.”
That is consistent with statements Bollman made in the spring in regards to both Person and Jimmy Cordle, another lineman who came to Ohio State with expectations that have thus far outdistanced their meaningful playing time.
“Well, part of that is growing up,” Bollman said. “When you say they hadn’t met their expectations, lets keep in mind there’s two guys in front of them that were First Team All-Big Ten [Center Doug Datish and guard T.J. Downing, both seniors], so I certainly wouldn’t want to sit there and say to them that they hadn’t met their expectations or consider them behind the eight-ball because they weren’t playing yet.
“But they both steadily improved and both looked like they’re ready to go, which is good. Remember, as an offensive lineman it’s not the normal deal – if we have 10 or 12 good offensive linemen here, they ought to be playing their fourth and fifth years.”
As for Person specifically, Bollman said, “I think that he got better and better and better as the year progressed. He really did a good job and we all thought that he was really ready to go at the end of the year. He’s had a great run.”
With fall camp rapidly approaching, Person said he is taking nothing for granted.
“Being at the top of that list is an honor. I’ve worked hard for it, but it’s definitely nothing written in stone yet. I was the number one guy going into spring and number one coming out of spring, so now going into camp it’s probably my spot to lose more than anything, but there are still plenty of guys capable of playing, so it’s not like I’m going in there as a solidified starter. I’m just the one in that spot right now, at least that’s how I’m looking at it going into camp. I’m going into camp fighting for the spot still.”
While he strives to be the first player called upon at right guard this fall, he will most certainly not be the first player from his southwestern Ohio hometown to wear No. 63 in scarlet and gray.
The late Doug Adams, a linebacker and one of the famed “Super Sophs” to lead Ohio State to the 1968 national championship, preceded Person, a fact the youngster is well aware of.
After all, he worked out in the Doug Adams Fitness Center as a high schooler and no doubt much of the time he put in there was a factor when he was named the team’s most valuable player as a senior, an award bearing Adams’ name.
Sadly, Person never met Adams, who passed away in a bicycle accident in 1997 after concluding a professional football career with the Cincinnati Bengals and going into practice as a dentist, but he has Jim Tressel to thank for the opportunity to honor him.
Person wore 58 in high school and thought he might do the same in college, but the Ohio State head coach had another idea.
With the most recent wearer of 63 – guard Adrien Clarke – having exhausted his eligibility, Tressel suggested Person take it for his own when the coach made an in-home visit to Person shortly before National Signing Day.
“I thought it sounded like a good idea,” Person said. “It sounded like a cool story, and his parents were actually at the weight room on my signing day. So I got a chance to meet them.
“It was neat for me because it was a piece of history. I was 17-years-old and this is a guy who played in ’68, ’69 and ’70.”