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

August 10, 2003

The quarterback is hopelessly confused; bodies are closing in,
options dwindling. A linebacker reading his eyes would see them
darting nervously, searching left and right. As time grows short
Craig Krenzel shuffles his feet, frustration building. Finally he
spots something. "Right there," he says. "Extra large."

From a set of metal shelves in a laboratory in the Tzagournis
Medical Research Facility at Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer
Center, Krenzel snatches a box of latex exam gloves. He snaps a
glove on each hand and returns to his rolling chair at a sterile
counter, where small vials of frozen RNA await his attention.
Amid a flurry of activity he quietly resumes his small part in
the search to cure acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that afflicts
one in 50,000 Americans and kills nearly 70% of those stricken.

Krenzel lives in two worlds. In one he's the quarterback of the
defending national champion Buckeyes, the fifth-year senior who
twice in the last month of the 2002 season led game-saving
fourth-quarter comebacks and who last January in the Fiesta Bowl
threw his 6'4", 225-pound body at Miami defenders so often that
he was the leading rusher in Ohio State's 31-24 double-overtime
victory. In the other world he is a 22-year-old molecular
genetics major with a 3.75 GPA and a staggering capacity for the
swift retention of complex information. "When you think of having
the physical attributes to compete at this level of college
football, coupled with the intellectual capacity to compete at
this level of medical research and study," says Dr. David
Schuller, executive director of Ohio State's James Cancer
Hospital, "you've brought it down to a very narrow subset of
people."

At almost any given time in his saturated life Krenzel is a
subset of one, different from everyone around him yet fitting in.
On a Monday evening in July he was directing receivers, running
backs, defensive backs and linebackers through the seven-on-seven
passing drills that are a staple of any college football team's
summer program. He blended seamlessly with the group--cursing
himself ("I suck!") and schooling the likes of still-developing
senior wideout Drew Carter ("You can't cut outside on the skinny
post, gotta get under")--and stayed until only a handful of
teammates remained, then dragged the footballs and the water
bottles inside. He was, of course, the only molecular genetics
major on the field.

Thirteen hours later Krenzel finished a weightlifting session at
the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and drove his small SUV to the
hospital, where he would spend three hours of the morning in
oncologist Michael Caligiuri's research lab. Working with
brilliant science nerds, Krenzel blended in there too. In the
spring 30 students, most of them graduate-level, interviewed for
research positions in Caligiuri's project; six were chosen.
Krenzel was, of course, the only football player in the room. "I
had never interviewed a football player before," says Caligiuri,
who has been selecting student researchers to work in his
leukemia project for a decade. "Craig not only has high
intelligence and a strong work ethic but also a remarkable degree
of humility and self-awareness of his talents and his
limitations. He is not caught up in who he is."

Who he is is what college sports craves: the athlete most likely
to stay out of jail, graduate and just maybe cure a disease. The
only knife he wields is a scalpel. (His shining image was
valuable to Ohio State this summer when the athletic program had
to defend its integrity against charges that sophomore running
back and Heisman candidate Maurice Clarett had gotten
preferential treatment for at least one exam, received improper
gifts and filed a misleading police report. Clarett was being
held out of preseason camp until issues regarding his eligibility
had been resolved.)

There are moments of hilarious disconnect between Krenzel's world
and that of his teammates. "Craig will leave schoolwork lying
around the apartment," says roommate Alex Stepanovich, a senior
and the Buckeyes' starting center. "I'll pick up a paper, and the
title will be a bunch of letters smashed together into words that
I wouldn't even try to pronounce."

Yet Krenzel also has the abiding respect of teammates for, among
other things, the toughness that allowed him to play every
meaningful minute of a 14-game national championship season. "I'm
so tired of saying, 'Man, you've got to get down on the ground,'"
says senior tight end Ben Hartsock, referring to Krenzel's
willingness to take hits in the open field.

The Ohio State offense was a running--and passing--joke in 2002,
scoring no more than two touchdowns in five of the last seven
games with a ground-based system that leaned heavily on Clarett
(who missed all or parts of five games with a shoulder injury).
Krenzel averaged a pedestrian 150.7 passing yards per game and
threw only 12 touchdown passes. (He also rushed for 368 yards.)
Yet without him there would have been no national title.

On Nov. 9 against Purdue at West Lafayette, Ind., facing
fourth-and-one and an eight-man jailbreak blitz, Krenzel lobbed a
perfectly timed 37-yard touchdown pass to wideout Michael Jenkins
to give the Buckeyes a 10-6 victory (sidebar). One week later, at
Illinois, he directed a touchdown drive in overtime for a 23-16
win. In the Fiesta Bowl he rose from a punishing fourth-quarter
hit by blitzing Miami linebacker Jonathan Vilma (story, page 78)
and delivered a game-saving fourth-and-14 strike to Jenkins on
the first possession of overtime. "You watch the guy on tape, and
you think he's pretty decent," says Purdue defensive coordinator
Brock Spack. "Then you play against him, and he's way better in
person."

When Krenzel wasn't rescuing the team from impending defeat, he
was acting as its emotional touchstone. "He's so calm, I think
he's a little weird," says Chris Gamble, the Buckeyes'
sensational flanker-defensive back. "He threw that pass to Mike
Jenkins at Purdue and just jogged off the field like he does it
every day." During the Fiesta Bowl, according to those who were
in the huddle with him, Krenzel broke the tension during TV
timeouts by cracking jokes. On Nov. 2, immediately after Ohio
State had rallied in the second half to dispatch outmanned
Minnesota 34-3 at Ohio Stadium, Krenzel went up to senior wideout
Chris Vance, whose brother, Percy Burton, had been shot to death
outside a Fort Myers, Fla., nightclub the night before. In the
afterglow of a bittersweet victory, Krenzel put his hands on
Vance's shoulder pads and told him, "If you need anything, I'm
here. Not just tonight. Anytime."

On a rainy summer afternoon, Debbie and Al Krenzel had time on
their hands. Al, 63, an Army veteran who served 16 months in
Vietnam, lost the accounting job he had for 26 years when his
company downsized last fall. Debbie works as a school bookkeeper
and gets most of the summer off. "Let's watch the Fiesta Bowl
again," Debbie said. Seated in the living room of their small
colonial house in Sterling Heights, Mich., 10 miles north of
downtown Detroit, the couple watched one more time as Ohio State
won its first outright national championship in 34 years. Again
the youngest of their three children rumbled recklessly for 81
yards on 19 carries and held the Buckeyes together in overtime.
Again Ohio State kept Miami out of the end zone with a climactic
goal line stand. When the tape finished, Debbie clicked off the
VCR and said to her husband, "What did we do right?"

If they figure that out, they should write a book. In addition to
Craig, the Krenzels' accomplished offspring include Brian, 26,
who played safety for four years at Duke, graduated last spring
from the University of Louisville School of Medicine and now is
an intern in orthopedic surgery at Duke University Medical
Center; and Krysten, 25, who teaches fourth grade in Sterling
Heights. "We always told the kids, 'Do anything you want, but put
your heart and soul into it. Do not just show up,'" Al says.

Craig was throwing a football in the gym one afternoon in 1995
before his freshman year at Ford High. He was a skinny 6-footer,
but there was something about his motion that intrigued Terry
Copacia, the new football coach. A former quarterback at Division
II Wayne State with a jones for teaching the arcane fundamentals
of quarterbacking, he started working with Craig, introducing him
to footwork drills that he practices to this day. Krenzel,
typically, threw himself into the lessons. Says Brian, "Terry
Copacia is a huge part of why Craig has achieved what he has."

Copacia was ready to play Krenzel in his sophomore year but met
resistance from a community that was accustomed to seeing seniors
in the starring roles. However, when Ford fell behind in the
season-opener against Brighton, which was led by future Michigan
quarterback Drew Henson, Copacia inserted Krenzel, who engineered
two scoring drives to bring Ford to within a missed field goal of
a comeback victory. "Right there," says Copacia, "you could see
he had something special."

Krenzel was getting most of the snaps by the end of the season,
after which Copacia made a crude four-minute highlight tape of
his quarterback. Having never coached a top recruit, he took the
video to Central Michigan assistant Tom Kearly, who watched one
minute and told Copacia, "Coach, he can play for us right now and
play four years." Satisfied, Copacia sent the tape to 30 colleges
and gave a copy to Brian Krenzel, who showed it to Duke assistant
and former NFL guard Joe DeLamielleure. "He was one of the best
high school players I'd ever seen," DeLamielleure says. "He was
hitting players in the chest, and they were dropping everything.
I remember saying, 'He'll go to Texas or Colorado or Michigan or
somewhere like that.'"

Michigan, just an hour down the road from Sterling Heights,
recruited Krenzel until his junior year, when Henson, a class
ahead, signed with the Wolverines. Michigan State came after
Krenzel hard, as did Boston College. But after visiting Columbus
in April of his junior year he committed to Ohio State, a
four-hour drive from his hometown. "Good school, good medical
school, good football program and just the right distance from
home, where Mom and Dad can make all the games but can't show up
on my doorstep unannounced," says Krenzel. "Plus, it just felt
right."

Krenzel redshirted his first year, in the fall of 1999, and was
buried in the depth chart the following season. In January 2001
Jim Tressel replaced John Cooper as coach, but Krenzel remained
third-string, behind senior Steve Bellisari and fellow sophomore
Scott McMullen. "It was obvious he had a great understanding of
football," says Joe Daniels, the quarterbacks coach under
Tressel, "but he needed reps throwing the ball. He was
inconsistent."

Though frustrated about his football career, Krenzel flourished
in the classroom. He had been interested in medicine since
childhood, but at Ohio State he upped the ante by choosing to
major in molecular genetics. "If a person just wants to get to
med school, they'll major in biology, not genetics," says
Adrienne Dorrance, an Ohio State graduate who supervises Krenzel
in the leukemia study. "To major in genetics you have to love
science, and you need a great desire to learn." Even fellow
premed football players like Hartsock were amazed at Krenzel's
classroom prowess. "We've been in a lot of the same classes, and
we have about the same GPA," says Hartsock, a biology major. "But
the joke is, he's spent about half the time getting there. He
just has this amazing ability to absorb and retain knowledge." In
the premed crucible of organic chemistry, Krenzel set the class
curve, often scoring higher than perfect on exams by nailing
bonus questions.

In the fall of 2001 a preseason thigh injury kept Krenzel a
distant third on the depth chart. "I was barely getting any reps
in practice," he recalls. The bye week on the Ohio State schedule
that year was Saturday, Oct. 20, and nearly two years earlier
Krysten had scheduled her wedding for that day so Craig could
attend without missing a game. But Sept. 11 changed so much,
including team schedules. The Buckeyes' Sept. 15 game against San
Diego State was moved to Oct. 20. Krenzel would have to miss
either the game or his sister's wedding. "Krysten was crushed
because Craig isn't just her brother, he's her buddy," says
Debbie.

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 sat in 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."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL O'NEILL COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN SCIENCE NERD? When not outthinking defenders, Krenzel simply outmuscled them while leading the Buckeyes to a 14-0 season. COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL CONROY/AP Krenzel read blitz... COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL CONROY/AP ...and hit Jenkins on the go. TWO COLOR DIAGRAMS: DIAGRAMS BY JOE ZEFF COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS HAPPY FEET Krenzel had the Buckeyes jumping after he directed them to their second straight win over Michigan. COLOR PHOTO: JASON WISE DOUBLE PLAY Debbie and Al raised two sons, Brian (left) and Craig, who played major-college football and studied medicine. COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL O'NEILL SMOCK DRAFT Krenzel was the only quarterback chosen to work on a cutting-edge Ohio State leukemia research project.

How to Save a Perfect Season
A gutsy fourth-down play hinged on instant analysis and
reaction

Ohio State spent much of its 2002 season on the edge of
disaster, winning five games by six points or less and two more
in overtime. No single play better represents the
resourcefulness of the Buckeyes and quarterback Craig Krenzel
than his 37-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins, on
fourth-and-one with 1:36 to play, that gave Ohio State a 10-6
victory at Purdue on Nov. 9. Here's how Krenzel describes the
sequence.

"We didn't huddle up. The play came in from the sideline. It was
King Right 64 Y Shallow Swap. King Right is the formation; 64 is
the blocking scheme, with five linemen and two backs protecting;
Y Shallow means the Y receiver--the tight end--runs a shallow
cross; and Swap means the flanker, Chris Gamble, runs a dig
[crossing] route and the split end, Mike Jenkins, runs a post. I
just called out the play at the line of scrimmage, because Purdue
doesn't know what King Right 64 means in our system. Then I used
hand signals for the patterns, because most teams use the same
terminology for receivers.

"When I looked at the defense I saw they'd be blitzing, because
the strong safety and linebackers were just about on the line of
scrimmage. Even the free safety was creeping up. That meant Chris
and Mike were getting one-on-one coverage on the outside.

"At the snap my first option was tight end Ben Hartsock on
something short for the first down. But the safety jumped Ben's
route. I had seen that the corner was playing inside technique
against Mike, which means he's walled off the inside part of the
field so Mike can't run a post. Mike read that too, so he gave
the guy a little inside move and ran a go pattern, straight up
the field. On the other side Chris Gamble saw what Mike was doing
and abandoned the dig route, because he didn't want to bring his
man into the middle of the field; he also ran straight up the
field. Purdue got some good pressure on me, but I had just enough
room to step up and get the ball out to Mike. The whole play was
an adjustment from the beginning." --T.L.

"If I was in a system where we threw the ball 35 times, people
would be talking about me for the NFL instead of focusing on my
major."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)