Former Cass Tech star looking to post-season bowl game, BCS championship
ANN ARBOR – The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry has a 104-year history and it’s intensity and allure just seems to keep rising.
In fact, many are calling the UM-OSU matchup the greatest rivalry in sports; not just in college football, but all of sports – both professional and college.
Recently, HBO Sports produced an hour-long special highlighting “The Rivalry” and its impact on the coaches, players, fans and alumni of the two schools.
Stepping into the middle of this giant chasm is a humble Detroiter from Cass Technical High School, Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston, who recently was named the Big Ten Conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Gholston, who turned down a scholarship offer to Michigan to attend the hated rival school just south of the Michigan border, is probably feeling pretty good today about his choice to attend OSU instead of U-M. After all, the Buckeyes have beaten the Wolverines all four years Gholston has been a student in Columbus.
“I chose Ohio State after meeting Coach (Jim) Tressel,” said Gholston, a First Team All-Big Ten selection. “His spirituality and his sincerity was what really helped me make the decision. There was a little pressure for me to stay in the state, but I had to make the decision that was right for me. I now bleed scarlet and gray.”
Gholston also noted that in the scheme of things, just being one of the “first people in his family to go to college” is what really mattered most.
Who can argue with his decision now, as one reflects on the recent success of the Buckeyes’ football program?
OSU was rated No. 1 for most of last season before losing to Florida in the BCS title game. It followed that success in 2007 by reclaiming the No. 1 ranking in the nation before a late- season loss to Illinois.
“We may have lost the BCS title game (last year),” Gholston explained, “but it’s been a great experience for me playing the game at the highest level. The community, university and alumni really love football. There cannot be a better situation for college football in the country.”
Ohio State won the Big Ten championship for the third straight year with its victory over Michigan two weeks ago. In the process, the Buckeyes earned a Rose Bowl bid (although the BCS national championship game still is a possibility).
“I’ve never played in the Rose Bowl,” Gholston said, “so that would be great if it plays out that way. Of course, it would be even better if we get another chance at the BCS title.”
Whether OSU plays in the Rose Bowl or a BCS bowl game, Gholston will have a chance to break the Buckeyes’ single-season record for sacks.
With three sacks in the Michigan victory, the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Gholston now has 13 sacks on the year, which ties him for the OSU mark set in 1995 by former All-American linebacker Mike Vrabel.
“For his size, he has excellent explosion and movement,” Tressel said. “He’s a humble, respectful man and he’s bright. He’s a special guy.”
Gholston was recruited as a linebacker, but was moved to the “Leo” or drop end position. Along the way, he’s evolved into one of the top defensive ends in the country, combining speed, strength and technique when rushing the quarterback or dropping into coverage.
“I knew I would be playing the ‘Leo’ when I came here,” said Gholston, who runs a 4.56 in the 40. “Sometimes I stand up and other (times) I’m down. I feel I can cover in the field or rush the passer.”
With Gholston as the anchor, the Ohio State pass-rushing unit tied for second in the Big Ten and fourth nationally with 42 sacks on the season. OSU is currently tops the country, allowing only 10.7 points, 225.2 yards of total offense and 148.2 yards of passing offense per game. It also ranks third nationally in rushing defense, giving up only 77.1 rushing yards per outing.
“When you are good up front, it makes your back end that much better,” OSU defensive backs coach Paul Haynes remarked. “Applying the pressure and leading the way is Vernon. He is tough, powerful and athletic.”
Added OSU defensive back Donald Washington: “Vernon is one of our defensive leaders. He’s not the most vocal guy, but he is a leader. We look to him and follow his example on and off the field.”
Said OSU All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis: “You see Vernon working out in the weight room after we just went through a three-hour practice. You see the hours in the film room. That’s why he’s successful on Saturdays.”
Gholston, who bench presses 455 pounds, is one of the strongest men on the Buckeyes. Needless to say, he isn’t running from the responsibility of being a leader on the No. 3-ranked team in the nation.
“I try to be a leader on and off the field,” he said. “I try to lead by my actions.”
Gholston noted that since he only started playing football in high school, he gives thanks to Cass Tech Coach Thomas Wilcher and the Detroit Public School League (PSL).
“When you play in the PSL, you have to learn quickly, because there are some good players in that league,” said Gholston, the son of Cheryl Gholston (his father is deceased). “Because the PSL is a running league and the Big Ten is a running league, it made the transition easier.”
With Gholston having a tremendous season, there is talk that the former Cass Technician could turn pro. Certainly, he has caught the eyes of NFL scouts. In fact, some already have him projected as a high first-round pick if he decides to forgo his senior year at OSU (NFL Scout Draft Profile ranks Gholston first among 117 defensive ends).
Gholston, however, preferred “not to talk about that right now,” and instead said he wanted to concentrate on the Buckeyes’ upcoming bowl game.
Who can blame him? It’s part of the old college spirit.