||Monday, December 30
Ohio State's Krenzel living the dream
By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN The Magazine
PHOENIX -- Not too much happened during Monday's media session with selected Ohio State players. Let's see, freshman tailback Maurice Clarett said he was "messed up" because of the recent shooting death of a close friend from Youngstown, Ohio, that he wanted to return home for the funeral, but was given the "runaround" by OSU officials. "I guess football is more important than a person's life to them," Clarett said.
Meanwhile, Buckeyes offensive tackle Shane Olivea said Division I-A football players are being "exploited," that they deserve a monthly stipend of $2,000-$3,000, that the current system encourages players to leave school early. "We're just out there, we're the cattle," said Olivea, as he detailed an in-season football work week that often stretches to 30 hours. Then he described the financial limits of his scholarship, especially late in the month. "I reach into my pocket and I feel my leg," he said.
Then came this shocker from quarterback Craig Krenzel: "We'll beat Miami. I guarantee it."
Krenzel and controversy have never been formally introduced. When he spent most of last season's Outback Bowl cooling his cleats on the sideline -- even though he had led the Buckeyes to a win against hated Michigan weeks earlier -- Krenzel didn't say a peep. Still won't. "I've never really questioned that," he said.
Krenzel is a present-future guy. The past? He does an Alfred E. Newman thing on that: What me worry?
Born and raised in Michigan, he could have worn maize and blue, but instead decided to bolt to Columbus. "I really wanted to get away from home," he said. When he informed Michigan's Lloyd Carr of the decision, the Wolverines coach wished him the best in all but one game a year: Michigan vs. Ohio State.
Sorry, Lloyd: Krenzel is the first OSU quarterback since the mid-70s to lead the Buckeyes to consecutive wins against the fellas from Ann Arbor. Of course, ask Krenzel about it and you get something straight from page 83 of the Humility Handbook. But that's OK. That's part of Krenzel's charm.
Krenzel wasn't necessarily the people's choice at season's beginning. He can look a bit mechanical at times. He isn't going to win the Big Ten sprint championship. His arm is OK, but nothing that would put another wave in Mel Kiper Jr.'s hairdo. He is what he is: calm, decisive, efficient, smart, prepared and sneaky athletic. A poor man's Ken Dorsey -- kind of, maybe.
Olivea remembers watching Krenzel during preseason practices. It wasn't exactly Junction Boys-tough, but nobody was rooting for an extra day of Camp Tressel. Anyway, there was Krenzel, absolutely thrilled with the idea of winning the starting job. Two-a-days? Hey, how about three-a-days?
"He felt camp was his coming-out party," Olivea said. "I'd never see the kid mad, or tired, or never wanting to work out."
He's still that way. That's why he's become a Buckeyes favorite, why he was named the team MVP over the likes of the celebrated Clarett or, say, Chris Gamble. They know he isn't the best athlete on a roster full of all-somethings, but they appreciate his toughness, his steadiness, his ability to respond when it matters most (remember fourth-and-1 against Purdue?. . . overtime against Illinois? . . . all game against Michigan?).
Krenzel is the worker bee quarterback. He is as fancy as blue jeans and a T-shirt. He understands his limitations, but more importantly, he understands his strengths: minimize mistakes, get the ball to playmakers, focus on the now.
The now is beating No. 1 Miami, which hasn't been done since Sept. 9, 2000. After that, Krenzel will return to school and complete his pre-med program as a Molecular Genetics major. "The nice thing about that, I think 90 percent of the students don't even know who I am," he said. "They don't really talk about football much. It kind of lets me get away from it a little bit."
Someone asked if he could have ever imagined himself here at the Fiesta Bowl, the starting quarterback of the undefeated and No. 2-ranked Buckeyes, and only a few days away from playing for a national championship?
"I could have dreamed it," he said.
For Krenzel, the dream has become reality. That's nice. Worker bee makes good.
Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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