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Monday, Oct 30, 2006
Terry Pluto  XML
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Pittman well-suited for OSU

Former Buchtel standout making a name for himself as Buckeyes tailback

By Terry Pluto

Antonio Pittman looked like he was on a job interview.

He wore a sharp purple shirt with a stiff white collar. That held a matching purple tie. The top button was closed; everything was just right.

It's great to see Pittman do more than just run over Cincinnati for 155 yards in Ohio State's 37-7 victory Saturday.

It was even more impressive to see a kid from Buchtel High School, who has grown into a savvy 21-year-old junior, starting at tailback for the No. 1-ranked team in the country.

OSU star quarterback Troy Smith calls Pittman ``the unsung hero.''

He even put Pittman into the same category as his offensive linemen, saying he's too often overlooked given what a crucial role he plays on the team.

Hard to believe that's the case for a running back headed to his second 1,000-yard season, but it's really true on this Buckeye powerhouse.

OSU has suddenly become a pass-first team, which is hard to believe. But coach Jim Tressel has opened up his offense to let Smith throw, especially with talented receivers such as Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez shredding opposing secondaries.

You can't cover those guys. Not all of them. Not when kids such as Brian Robiskie and GlenOak's Brian Hartline come off the bench. Not when a tight end is almost always open, because the receivers demand so much attention.

In the first half, the Buckeyes threw the ball 15 times, ran it 14.

As Tressel said earlier in the week about his 29 pass plays to 26 runs in the victory at Texas: ``Woody (Hayes) would not be happy.''

Which brings us to Pittman, one of the team's most respected members. There were times in the past two games when some fans actually found themselves saying, ``Why not run the ball a little more?''

Rarely have those words been uttered by those in scarlet and gray watching the games.

Saturday, there was Pittman galloping 48 yards for one touchdown, and then bulling his way to some rugged first downs inside. There was Pittman helping freshman running back Chris Wells. There was Pittman in the post-game interview room, dressed as sharp as any player.

He handled some tough questions about wanting more carries and having Wells behind him with the same determination and care he uses to elude tacklers. Wells was considered to be perhaps the best running back in the country during his senior year at Garfield High, a Parade Magazine All-American.

Some Buckeye fans acted as if Wells should immediately take Pittman's job, forgetting how Pittman rolled up 1,331 yards last season -- it was the second-highest total of any sophomore in OSU history.

Pittman is not an eye-popping runner. He's just a gritty, productive one who continually exceeds expectations.

Even in high school, Pittman was somewhat overlooked. Yes, he was recruited by Ohio State, but few predicted he would emerge as such a force so soon. At Buchtel, he was a fleet running back. There were some concerns about his being able to handle the physical pounding of the Big Ten.

Three years later, Pittman is 5-foot-11 and about 200 pounds. He's added at least 20 pounds at OSU, mostly muscle. He says he ``prefers to grind it out.''

He wants to be considered a complete back, one who runs inside or out. One who can catch a pass. One who isn't afraid to use his body to throw a block on a 300-pound lineman.

Does he want the ball more? Of course. Will he complain about it? No way. He insisted the addition of Wells ``is not frustrating, it's more motivating.''

Tressel could not have answered that question with more diplomacy.

Pittman understands that the publicity will go to Smith and Ginn. And that Gonzalez is emerging as the new Santonio Holmes. And the defense is getting better every week, this time holding Cincinnati to minus-4 yards rushing.

``If I do my part, I'll get enough attention,'' Pittman said. ``I don't need to have a big name.''

Just a good name, and Pittman has earned just that for the Buckeyes.


Terry Pluto can be reached at terrypluto2003@yahoo.com. Sign up for Terry's free, weekly e-mail newsletter ``Direct from Pluto'' at www.ohio.com.