Ohio State football: Freshman linebacker Raekwon McMillan impresses Curtis Grant

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Curtis Grant has been the starter at middle linebacker.
By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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The week break is almost over for Ohio State, with spring practice resuming on Tuesday, and one of the more interesting competitions for a starting job, at middle linebacker, will ensue in earnest.

Curtis Grant is the returning starter, a senior in the fall who dealt with nagging injuries late last season. He was a top recruit in 2011, ranked second overall by Rivals.com behind Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina, and he finally started playing closer to that hype last season.

Newcomer Raekwon McMillan is ranked No. 1 among

inside-linebacker prospects this year by Rivals, and he was in such a hurry to get his feet planted in college that he was one of seven members of Ohio State’s recruiting class to enroll in January.

Coach Urban Meyer has left no doubt about the potential he sees in McMillan, who appears physically ready to play.

Even Grant sees it.

“Raekwon looks real good,” Grant said. “He’s really talented. He comes in with a lot of things freshmen don’t come in with. … When a guy comes in like that, that talented, it makes you want to work on your craft more, and do the things you need to do to continue to get better.”

That’s what spring is about, Grant said.

“Competition, always,” he said. “We’ve got good guys in the room, so there is always competition. If you don’t come out here and approach it like that, you will lose your job.”

McMillan, from Hinesville, Ga., said a month ago that he planned to leave the high-school accolades behind and understood the challenge in front of him.

“Every day, I come in with the mindset that the five-star stuff and high school really don’t matter anymore,” McMillan said. “All that can be thrown in the trash can right now because I’m just a freshman in college who got here in January. I have to come in and work hard like everybody else so I can make a name for myself on the field.”

But he does have something going for him that Grant didn’t three years ago. Ohio State is revising its defense to a simpler, aggressive, in-your-face approach after struggling last season against the pass.

“It’s very tough (to play as a freshman), but the way we’ve changed things around, it’s a lot simpler,” Grant said. “So basically for someone like (McMillan), coming into something that’s a lot more simple than complex, it’s a lot easier to catch on.”

But Grant believes that he, too, will benefit from the new approach. “I feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “The more simple it is, the less thinking as a middle linebacker that you have to do. Basically you’re the quarterback of the defense. The less checks the quarterback has to make, the lot more fun it is, and you can just play and not worry.”

Grant also is better prepared physically for the competition. He said he has fully recovered from a high ankle sprain and a nerve problem in his back that bothered him last season.

He’s also feeling a touch nostalgic, knowing that this is his last college spring.

“The difference to me is that I’m older, and it seems like everything is going by a lot quicker,” Grant said. “It’s kind of sad because you build a bond with the guys who are here, and it just seems like it’s going by faster and faster once you get to your senior year.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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