George, now with the Houston Oilers, says, "When situations were crucial, we always ran to his side. Every time I ran behind him was a guaranteed five yards, because he'd push his man that far backward. He's the best I've ever seen."
Pace came to Ohio State in the fall of 1994 from Sandusky, a northern Ohio town of 33,000 on Lake Erie that splits the difference between Cleveland arid Toledo. He became the starting left tackle on his first day in double sessions, an ascension of unprecedented swiftness at Ohio State. Says Korey Stringer, who at the time was the team's right tackle and would leave early for the NFL (he now starts for the Minnesota Vikings) after Pace's freshman year, "We knew during fall camp that he was going to be a player. He was just so advanced technically, so smooth and natural. He's just a great athlete."
This they also knew in Sandusky, a blue-collar town that embraces its high school heroes and stockpiles their highlights in a rich, collective memory. College football pundits have taken to praising Pace's sprint alongside wide receiver Michael Wiley on a 49-yard reverse against Rice on Sept. 7, marveling at the vision of a 320-pound man steaming downfield and throwing one last block at the goal line. The good people of Sandusky saw a similar effort in 1993, Pace's senior season, in a game at Vermilion High for the league title. On a variation of the Washington Redskins' counter-trey, Pace pulled from the left side and led tailback LeAndre Moore through a huge hole on the right side. As linebackers and defensive backs alike looked for grass to grab—"Who wanted to get in Orlando's way?" says Sandusky coach Larry Cook—Pace just kept running ahead of Moore, 55 yards into the end zone. "Moore never caught him," says Cook. "Orlando looked like a sleek automobile out there."
The good people of Sandusky also witnessed Pace's athleticism on the basketball court, where Pace was a self-professed "garbageman, with a few low-post moves." In the league title game against Lorain Admiral King High his senior year, Pace scored the go-ahead basket on a putback with seconds to play in overtime. While Pace's teammates celebrated prematurely, King inbounded and rushed up the floor for a last-second shot. Pace, the only Sandusky player to get downcourt, was waiting, and when a King guard released a jump shot, Pace leaped to swat the ball out of bounds as the buzzer sounded. "Truly a remarkable athlete," says Cook.
Pace and his sister, Katrina, 24, were raised by their mother, Joyce Pace Caffey (she married Sherman Caffey last March), and maternal grandmother, Idella Pace. Joyce has worked in Sandusky for 20 years, holding a variety of jobs at the Dixon-Ticonderoga plant famous for those ubiquitous yellow No. 2 pencils. She presently operates a machine that makes colored pencils. Idella also works at the plant, hand-packing boxes of chalk. The two of them kept Orlando clothed when he was a child, dealing with his prodigious growth by buying him adult wear when he was in junior high school. Together the mother and grandmother tried to appreciate the violent game that their little man was built for. "I didn't like football," says Joyce. "I would hear from other people that children could get hurt. My son is teaching me more about it, but I still worry."
Away from the playing field, Pace conveys a disarming gentleness, thoroughly disconnected to the mayhem he creates on the field. "I definitely go through a change," says Pace. "I'm a different person out there with a uniform on."
George will vouch for this. "The thing that separates Orlando from most linemen is his attitude," says George. "He's nasty. He'll do whatever it takes to kill his opponent. He's not content to just demolish his guy. After he does that, he takes off down the field sniffing for more blood."
Pace savors the contact. "The hitting, that's what I enjoy," he says. "When I was little, I played football because I was big, so I had to play. But I've grown to love the game, the physical part of it."
He will soon need a new outlet for his aggression, a new backdrop for his metamorphosis. Much as high school football was never difficult for him, so the challenge of the college game has melted away. There is little doubt that this is his last year at Ohio State. "Once you get to a level where you're dominant and there's another level for you to go to, you have to go there," says Pace.
Short-term goals remain, a checklist that expires in January. "Rose Bowl," says Pace. "Win the Lombardi again, win the Out-land Trophy [awarded to the nation's best interior lineman]." He pauses, and decides not to say the word Heisman, not to press the absurd. Then he continues. "To be the best college football player in the country."