Primed to be picked: My mindset as I move on from being Ohio State's QB to preparing for the 2016 NFL draft
This story appears in the April 18-25 issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
I remember going to Ted Ginn Jr.'s draft party in 2007 at Glenville High in my hometown of Cleveland. It seemed like the whole neighborhood had gathered to watch, and I'll never forget the emotion of seeing Ted get that phone call when the Dolphins picked him number 9. I was in junior high, and seeing guys like Ted, Donte Whitner and Troy Smith play at Glenville, star at Ohio State and go on to the NFL planted the seed of possibility for me. It made something so far away seem so real.
In the next few weeks I'll be getting my own NFL draft phone call. I have no idea if I'll be the first pick or the last—I haven't looked at a mock draft since October. It really doesn't matter what people say; what matters is how prepared I am to take advantage of the opportunity when my phone rings.
I trained in San Diego from the time Ohio State's season ended in January until the NFL combine in February. I got myself in peak physical condition, losing 6% body fat but staying at 250 pounds.
My skills evolved with my body. For years I threw the ball without using the laces. My quarterback trainer in San Diego, George Whitfield, thought this was crazy. He calls the laces the ball's handle, and compares not using them to driving with only your wrist on the steering wheel in New York City traffic. Now I throw with the top knuckle of my ring finger on the laces, which helps get the nose of the ball pointed down on deep balls. The biggest adjustment has been taking snaps under center, which we didn't really do at Ohio State. Chargers center Chris Watt would come over in the mornings and work out with us in exchange for a black coffee and a breakfast sandwich. There's a science to taking the snap, so you can anticipate it. You have to wait to feel the pop of it in your hands.
The combine ended up being a dud for me. I got hurt on a 40-yard dash, pulling my hamstring on my second attempt. I couldn't run for a week. But everything happens for a reason, and it really allowed me to focus on my Pro Day on March 11. I loved only having to throw, and working with my fellow Buckeyes Braxton Miller, Mike Thomas and Jalin Marshall was great. I graded myself a B-plus, but it's really up to the 125 NFL scouts and personnel guys who were there that day to rate me.
Everyone wants me to have a draft party, but there's no way. I've been trying to stay low-key. I've changed my phone number three times since we won the 2014 national title. I'm not planning on watching the first night of the draft—I'll be doing a heavy lifting workout—but on April 29, when the second and third rounds are announced, I have a recovery day. I'm just going to watch it in my apartment in Columbus. I'm looking forward to finding out where I'm going, learning like a sponge and getting ready for my chance.
No matter where I end up—waiting my turn as a backup or starting right away—I'm going to approach every day like I'm a starter, and when my time does come, I'll be ready. A lot of a young quarterback's ability to play right away depends on the system and the type of players the team has around him. It has worked out both ways over the years and just depends on how a player approaches the situation.
I've gone back to Ginn Academy, the all-boys school where I went to high school, and Glenville High, where I played my high school football, a lot since getting to Ohio State. It's cool to go back and inspire and motivate. The best part of this process is that somewhere in Cleveland there's going to be a kid who sees what I did, just like I saw all those Glenville guys before me. Hopefully he'll be inspired to do the same. You can't put a price on that.