Remember the brief NFL careers of butterfingered track stars Johnny (Lam) Jones and Renaldo Nehemiah? Ginn is the inverse of those guys--"a great football player who happens to excel at track," as Buckeyes senior linebacker Tony Schlegel aptly describes him. "Look at his lineage."
Indeed, while Ted Sr. has coached Glenville's track team to three straight state titles, he is better known as the coach of the Tarblooder football squad, which has produced a steady stream of Division I talent. Ted Jr. is one of five former Glenville players on the Ohio State roster and the brightest star Ted Sr. has ever sent down Interstate 71 to Columbus. In addition to punting, returning kicks and playing every offensive skill position for Glenville, Ginn was also the nation's top lockdown corner as a senior, intercepting eight passes and returning five of them for touchdowns. It wasn't long after he arrived on campus that the Buckeyes started trying him at positions other than defensive back. "It became very obvious to us," recalls Tressel, "that while he could be a very good defender, he was out of this world with the ball in his hands."
But after the switch to flanker, Ginn was "force-fed" the offense, in the words of passing-game coordinator Joe Daniels, and it took him a while to digest it. The moment he stopped overthinking and trusted himself to execute the plays properly, he kicked into high gear. "All of a sudden," says Daniels, "he was full speed, and it was like, Wow!"
Ginn's breakout game came on Nov. 6 against Michigan State. Having made a bold prediction to receivers coach Darrell Hazell--"I feel like I'm going to score three times"--Ginn got busy backing it up. He reached the end zone on a 17-yard reverse, a 60-yard punt return, then a game-breaking 58-yard reception. The Buckeyes won 32-19, and Ginn had arrived.
Two weeks later, as one internet wag noted, it was d�j� vu all over a Ginn. In the third quarter against Michigan, Wolverines punter Adam Finley launched a rocket that went 75 yards in the air. Shot from the end zone, the coaches' video of the play shows Ginn backpedaling to his 18-yard line, catching the ball, then dashing into a maelstrom of white Wolverines jerseys. At the 25 he is encircled by most of the punt-coverage team, but two moves and one burst of speed later he is at the left sideline with only the punter to beat. You know how that movie ends: Ginn's 82-yard return for a touchdown, giving the Buckeyes a 27-14 lead, was immediately hailed as one of the most spectacular plays in Ohio State history.
Texas hasn't given up a punt return for a touchdown in seven years, but that doesn't mean Tressel won't find some way to spring Ginn. In addition to flanker he will line up at running back and in the "shot-Ginn" formation, as a kind of single-wing quarterback. Sometimes he gets the ball on a reverse. "You have to be prepared for anything," says Longhorns co-defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. It's almost too much for Ohio State fans, long unaccustomed to such offensive dazzle, to handle. In four seasons Tressel's offenses--even that of the 2002 national champions--tended to be underwhelming. That came to an end down the stretch last season, and not only because of Ginn's emergence. At the same time another freshman flanker, Anthony Gonzalez, was coming into his own, and together they took pressure off leading wideout Santonio Holmes, whom defenses could no longer afford to double-cover with impunity.
The Longhorns will be forced to pick their poison. "Who do you want to put two guys on?" asks Zwick. "'Cause you know we're going to go away from [that receiver] and let somebody else make a play. They can't double-cover everyone."
Ginn is more than the front man for a new offensive era at Ohio State. He is a healing agent, who arrived on campus at the end of a dark period for the football program. Fourteen players were arrested for various misdemeanors and felonies between January 2001 and May 2004. Those scrapes with the law came in tandem with stories of football players being coddled by academic advisers who steered them to such gut courses as Officiating Basketball and Tressel's own class: Coaching Football.
Efforts to right the program were aided immeasurably by Ginn's decision to attend Ohio State over USC. With his work ethic and humility and his triumph over his disability, Ginn has created a stark contrast between himself and Ohio State's last game-breaking sensation. It would be fair to describe Ginn as the un-Clarett.
Ted Sr. tells the story of taking his son to a restaurant two years ago; when Ted Jr. excused himself from the table, he saw two employees, both of whom appeared to have Down syndrome, cleaning the restrooms. We can't eat here, he told his father, upon returning to the table. "They got the slow kids in there cleaning the bathrooms," Ted Jr. said, "and I don't like that."