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A Beautiful MIND
Tim Layden
August 11, 2003
Craig Krenzel, national champion quarterback and molecular genetics major, wields the most imposing weapon in the game
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August 11, 2003

A Beautiful Mind

Craig Krenzel, national champion quarterback and molecular genetics major, wields the most imposing weapon in the game

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Craig wrestled with his options and talked to teammates. In the week before the wedding he got no first-team snaps in practice, so on Wednesday he talked to Tressel. "He went into it with so much class," says Tressel. "He was considerate of his teammates and the coaching staff. When he asked me if he could go home, I said, 'Go.' Let's face it, the fall of 2001 was not a time for conventional thinking."

A month later Krenzel's career would turn dramatically. In the early hours of Friday, Nov. 16, Bellisari, who was Krenzel's roommate at the time and a close friend, was arrested for drunken driving. Tressel suspended him for a game, and McMullen was elevated to starter that weekend against Illinois, with Krenzel his backup. McMullen struggled, and just before halftime Krenzel got his chance.

Krenzel wound up completing 11 of 23 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. Though the Buckeyes lost 34-22, Krenzel's performance was stunning given that he was thrown into the fire with practically no previous game experience and few snaps in practice. "A kid who learned without playing," says Tressel, shaking his head in wonder. Says Krenzel, "People always hope for an opportunity, but you have to be ready because, at least in my case, there might not have been another one. I was mentally ready. So I did some good things."

He did more of them the next week, in the regular-season finale, leading Ohio State to a 26-20 victory over Michigan, the Buckeyes' first win in Ann Arbor in 14 years. Although Bellisari returned to play most of the Outback Bowl, Krenzel took his fresh confidence into spring ball, won the starting job easily and carried his momentum into the 2002 season.

On a recent afternoon Krenzel satin a meeting room at the Ohio State football complex, reliving part of the 2002 season at a reporter's behest. His lab work was finished for the day, and a tee time awaited. Krenzel turned to a computer and scrolled through the season's tape catalog, selected the Fiesta Bowl offense and found the fourth-and-14 completion to Jenkins that kept the game alive. The play unspooled on the screen, Jenkins exploding off the line then stopping abruptly 20 yards deep and whirling to find the ball already nearing. In retrospect it was an easy completion, except that the stakes were so high. "I knew I had Mike one-on-one," says Krenzel. "He runs the comeback route well, I throw it well, and we time it up pretty well. The corner had no chance, really."

He talks a more assured football game than an outsider might expect. After all, Krenzel is supposed to be the weak link in the Buckeyes' offense. "If I was in a different system, where we threw the ball 35 times a game for 3,000 yards," says Krenzel, "with my athletic ability and my size I'd be one of those quarterbacks everybody would be talking about now for the NFL, instead of harping on my major and how smart I am. Don't get me wrong—I'm extremely proud of what I've done in the classroom, but as a quarterback I'm in the Ohio State system. And what matters is where we are in January."

The load could shift this year. While Ohio State lost five starters from the Big Ten's second-ranked defense, the entire offense is back. "I expect us to throw more this year," says Krenzel, "and I expect to be better." His degree requirements are nearly all completed, so his course load will be lighter this fall. Daniels says Krenzel called plays at the line of scrimmage 15% to 20% of the time in 2002 and expects that number to rise to more than 30% this year.

Krenzel's football ambition does not stop with the 2003 season. He intends to play in the NFL. The league will watch him closely, the main areas of concern being his accuracy and mobility. "This is obviously a critical year for him to be seriously considered," says Cincinnati Bengals scout John Garrett. "What we know about him is that he has astute decision-making ability and he won a national championship going into hostile environments. Those are important traits."

The other half of his life, however, has been affected by the work he has done this summer. Krenzel once presumed he would follow his brother's path into orthopedic surgery. Now he isn't so sure. Caligiuri's project, which seeks to understand how a particular gene mutation causes the most common form of adult leukemia, is cutting-edge, and Krenzel has become absorbed in it. "One of the great things about being an oncologist," he says, "is that you have the opportunity to offer patients hope when they're facing the worst time in their life. It's an awesome responsibility."

In the meeting room the hard drive of the computer hums and a play is frozen on the screen. Nearby, coaches and players dart in and out of doorways. "I'm blessed to have the ability to do the things I do, to have a mind that works the way mine does," says Krenzel. "Now, whether it's in the NFL or in medicine, or both someday, I just have to figure out what I'm supposed to do with it."

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