CFB: OL Justin Boren back for final year with Buckeyes
By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Justin Boren, who famously transferred from Michigan to hated rival Ohio State, is relishing his final year as a Buckeye.
Three years after an ugly departure from the Wolverines, the senior figures to be an anchor on the offensive line.
Boren played his high school ball just a few miles from the Ohio State campus, in nearby Pickerington. But during his recruitment he selected Michigan over Ohio State. That wasn't a huge surprise, since his father, Mike, was a former linebacker for the Wolverines.
Justin Boren spent two years following in his dad's cleats at Michigan and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention in Lloyd Carr's final year as head coach. When Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr, a rift developed between the new coach and the 6-foot-3, 320-pound then-sophomore.
Boren quit the team and took a parting shot at Rodriguez.
"Michigan football was a family, built on mutual respect and support for each other from coach Carr on down," Boren said in a statement at the time of his departure. "We knew it took the entire family, a team effort, and we all worked together. I have great trouble accepting that those family values have eroded in just a few months. That same helmet, that I was raised on and proudly claimed for the last two years, now brings a completely different emotion to me, one that interferes with practicing and playing my best and mentally preparing for what is required."
Boren himself also took criticism — some of his teammates did not approve of him taking shots at the Michigan football program as he was walking out the door. He ended up transferring to Ohio State, and now is reticent to discuss his transfer from the Buckeyes' chief rival.
"I'm glad it's all in the past," he said. "I'm a Buckeye. I've been a Buckeye for three years."
However, he loves to discuss how far he and the rest of the offensive linemen have come.
"I think we're a lot more mature. I think guys understand what's going on a lot more," he said after a recent spring practice, comparing this line with last year's. "As a unit, I think we're a stronger unit both on the field and off the field."
Boren, whose brother Zach starts at fullback for the Buckeyes, also said that he appreciates the sport far more now that he is a senior and has spent three years adapting to Ohio State.
"It's real. This is my last spring ball in college and everything you do, it's like the last time you're going to do it," he said. "You kind of take things for granted, and now you sort of look back and think, 'Now's the time to do it."'
He said it's not a question of taking his role more seriously.
"I don't know if you take it more seriously, you just appreciate it more," he said. "It's your last time for everything."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is pleased with how Boren and the rest of his offensive line is shaping up. Just don't mention to him how healthy it is.
"We don't like to jinx ourselves," he said, as if to shush any talk about how good his blockers have looked so far this spring. "We're still not at a huge number. The typical place has got 15 to 16 scholarship linemen. We've always hung around that 12 to 13, right or wrong. Then if you do get banged, that makes it tough. But hopefully we'll stay healthy."
It seems that every spring the Buckeyes have to cope with a makeshift line because there are always three or four players rehabbing injuries. But during early workouts so far, tackles J.B. Shugarts, Marcus Hall and Andrew Miller, guards Bryant Browning, Andrew Moses and Boren, and center Mike Brewster are looking fit and organized.
"It's evident that there's a lot of guys who have some experience," said line coach Jim Bollman. "There's seven to be specific, then you add a couple of guys that we redshirted that look like they have some potential. We have a chance, barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, to have a little bit of depth."
Mike Adams, a touted recruit who ended up in Tressel's doghouse a year ago, is also back and coming off a strong winter of conditioning.
The only person missing from last year's front wall is Jim Cordle, a veteran left tackle who also had started at center.
The three B's — Boren, Brewster and Browning — provide a strong nucleus for the 2010 season.
"It's always a luxury when you have the same three guys back who played a lot of games last year," Bollman said. "Justin missed one game and I think Mike and B.B. were in there every other game."
Tressel, who said the line progressed throughout last year's 11-2 season, has set the bar high.
"Now what would I like to see? I'd like to see us become dominant," he said. "We need them to get better."
Justin Boren thinks the raw material is there.
"We have a lot of potential," he said. "We've just got to keep on working hard, and we could be really good."