As Kirk Barton and his wife walked into a local restaurant in the spring, the former Ohio State tackle noticed something peculiar — but not surprising — across the way. Current OSU center Billy Price was sitting at a table with his girlfriend, but Price wasn’t studying the menu. He was reading a textbook and taking notes.

“Like most people who want to do great, he was worried about every possible question that could be on an upcoming midterm,” Barton said. “He was running through it again. But that, in a nutshell, is what it takes to be Billy Price, to be elite in school and to be elite on the field. Every waking minute you have to be efficient.”

It could be argued that few players in Ohio State history have been as efficient. When Price is introduced on Saturday along with the 18 other seniors about to experience their last game at Ohio Stadium, he will trot out with the traditional rose in hand to give to his mother, a degree in business administration from the Fisher College of Business already in his back pocket. Then he will move on start his 52nd straight game, extending his Ohio State record.

His journey began in the opener of the 2014 national championship season against Navy, when he was a fast-learning, redshirt-freshman left guard on what became the best offensive line in the nation. This season, he has provided leadership to a front that is improving by the game, all while playing center for the first time.

Regardless of the situation or opponent, Price has always answered the bell.

With his start in the loss to Iowa on Nov. 4, he tied the record of 50 consecutive starts by nose guard Luke Fickell from 1993 to ’96. Price broke the tie with the former OSU assistant and head coach — now in his first year as coach at the University of Cincinnati — in the win over Michigan State last week.

“I’m proud to have Billy break this record, because he has done everything the right way,” Fickell said. “He worked his way into his position, he has taken great care of his body — and that means during the seasons and the offseasons — and he has lived his life the right way.

“It’s not luck to stay healthy for that long. You have to do so many things right, and he has.”

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That has been Price’s lifestyle for as long as he can remember. He rode that ethic into Ohio State as part of the 2013 recruiting class. His ambitions were clear.

“The biggest thing once I made my decision to come to Ohio State was to make sure I got my degree because it’s a highly touted, highly respected business school here, Fisher,” Price said. “I wanted to enjoy the process.”

He also wanted to be the next John Simon, a hero from the Youngstown area, a defensive lineman wearing No. 54. But Price said he figured out the first two weeks as a freshman that his temperament didn’t fit that side of the ball.

“You kind of weed yourself out, really, realizing, ‘Hey, that’s not me. That’s not who I am,’ ” Price said. He said that “making the change to offensive line, coach Meyer welcomed it, so did (position coach Ed) Warinner and the offensive line room. It was a good, smooth move for me.”

After a redshirt season, he become a starter the following year and has started every game since. He was an All-American last year at right guard, is a two-time captain, is considered to be the strongest player on the team and now is projected as a possible first-round NFL draft pick next year. That’s the result of combining obvious talent with showing up every day with the intent of improving.

It’s the same approach he took to academics. He has exercised repeatedly what probably is his greatest gift.

“I can flip the switch,” Price said. “I set myself up with certain disciplines in high school (at Austintown Fitch), being a two-sport athlete. So it’s, say, sitting at the kitchen table at 11 o’clock at night making sure you get your homework done before you go to bed. That’s the big thing with me. My mind doesn’t shut off until I know I’ve completed the task.”

Such discipline has aided his start streak. He stayed true to taking care his body, of not letting, say, a tweaked knee or shoulder grow into a major problem, but seeking treatments with the goal always of being ready on game day.

“He’s an elite kid,” Barton said. “He has a very high capacity for being able to handle the Fisher College of Business while also playing at an elite level on the football field. That’s tough to do.”

Price has worked in brief internships along the way with Nike and L Brands — the latter set up by a phone call from Meyer to Abigail Wexner — and with OSU Golf Course management. He also took part in a Soles4Souls outreach trip to Jamaica.

He has wrung the near maximum from his college experience.

“I’ve been very fortunate, because you get great experience from those things, and a couple of them were paid,” Price said. “For instance, I needed a parking pass for Fisher College of Business parking garage because I didn’t want to worry about finding a spot, so with some of the proceeds from a job, I was able to pay for that.”

He earned his degree and now is poised to take the home field for the final time.

“It’s going to be an emotional day, period,” Price said. “I know my mom, my family, being able to see the journey I’ve taken through my high school years and then through college, and now my final game in the Horseshoe — I know my mom is going to be a blubbering mess. That’s mom for you.

“But I’ll just be proud of the things I’ve been able to do here, and being able to maximize my experience.”

tmay@dispatch.com

@TIM_MAYsports

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