Forgive ohio state freshman Ted Ginn for not getting too riled over Maurice Clarett's recent disparaging comments about the Buckeyes' program. "Ted knows about the guy but doesn't know the guy," explains Rasul Spain, a high school teammate who spent last weekend visiting Ginn, his childhood best friend, in Columbus. "So all of those headlines just didn't matter that much to him."
Yet credit must go to Ohio State's newest phenom for chasing away, if only momentarily, the Buckeyes' ghost of freshmen past. After a week in which water-cooler talk centered on Clarett, who claimed in ESPN the Magazine that he had been given a bogus job and free cars as an OSU rookie in 2002, the weekend's buzz revolved around Ginn, whose electric play propelled Ohio State (7--4, 4--4 in the Big Ten) to a 37--21 stunner over archrival and conference co-champ Michigan (9--2, 7--1). "He has everything," says Wolverines senior cornerback Marlin Jackson, "that a team could want in a player."
Everything is the operative word when describing Ginn. Playing under his dad, Ted Sr., at Glenville High in Cleveland, Ginn shifted among quarterback, wide receiver, cornerback, kick returner and punt returner, depending on where a big play was needed. He signed with the Buckeyes expecting to play corner, where last season he earned USA Today defensive player of the year honors. But it soon became apparent that Ginn, a 6-foot 170-pounder, could make a bigger impact in Ohio State's playmaker-starved attack. "He's not just fast, he's fearless," says defensive backs coach Mel Tucker. "Every challenge we've thrown at him, he's welcomed."
Ginn's development as a receiver and return man has coincided with the Buckeyes' climb from an 0--3 conference start. At Michigan State on Nov. 6, the freshman raised eyebrows by scoring touchdowns three ways (run, punt return and reception), as Ohio State put up a then-season-high point total in a 32--19 win. With Ginn again dominating last Saturday, the Buckeyes had their highest point total against the Wolverines in 36 years. Along with sophomore quarterback Troy Smith, a former high school teammate who passed for 241 yards and rushed for 145 more, Ginn toasted a veteran Wolverines secondary for five catches and a team-high 85 yards. Early in the third quarter the freshman evaded four Michigan players en route to an 82-yard punt return touchdown--his NCAA-record-tying fourth of the season--which put Ohio State up 27--14 and marked a momentum shift from which the Wolverines couldn't recover. Said Smith, "He's the spark plug in our car."
After the game Smith, Ginn, Spain and safety Donte Whitner hopped in a real car and headed to Cleveland, where they cheered their alma mater in a state regional final win over crosstown rival Saint Ignatius. "It'll probably give them another step," said Ginn of the Glenville players, "just to know that Ted Ginn or Troy Smith is in the stadium."
That comment could apply to the Buckeyes' young offense as well. Though the program faces scrutiny by the NCAA, between the lines Ohio State's future has just gotten a little brighter.