As far as Demetrius Knox is concerned, he and Ohio State will be playing Southern California pretty much in his backyard on Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.
“It’s about eight, 10 minutes from my house,” the Fort Worth, Texas, native said. “I’m excited about it.”
But he would be excited even if the game was being played in France. That would be a better analogy for how far Knox, the starter at right guard, has come since his last inglorious moments in a bowl.
That was when he played briefly in relief of guard Michael Jordan in the first half of the Buckeyes’ 31-0 loss to Clemson last season in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Coming off an injury that had kept him shelved the last half of the 2016 season, Knox had a tough few plays against Clemson’s talented defensive front before Jordan returned.
“Everybody has their games where there’s a rough patch, but coach (Urban) Meyer always says it’s not about ‘Oh, I lost this, I failed this,’ ” Knox said. “It’s, ‘OK, I learned from that.’ I learned from Clemson.”
The biggest lesson was the one that comes only from being thrown into the fray.
“Just basically what it’s like to be out there with the bright lights,” Knox said. “It’s time. You’ve got to go. When this year came around, I had to start. It’s time to go.”
But as the 2017 preseason camp ensued, he wasn’t the first choice for the right guard spot vacated by Billy Price, who had moved to center. Branden Bowen won the job. Then midway through the season, when Bowen suffered a season-ending broken leg, Knox watched Matt Burrell go in as the immediate reliever.
It was the next week in practice when Knox earned the starting job, completing the long road back from the Clemson game.
“That would have set a lot of people back, and I think it did him,” offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said. “And don’t get me wrong, I don’t think he overcame that really quickly. But I think it also set him on the path of thinking ‘The next time I have that opportunity, I can’t fail.’ ”
As the 2017 season started and Bowen was named the starter, Studrawa made sure to keep Knox engaged, as did his teammates on the line.
“Then we saw what happened to Branden Bowen,” Studrawa said. “Demetrius had to step in, but this time he was prepared.”
He was no weak link, grading out a champion down the stretch as the Buckeyes, following the stunning loss at Iowa, won their last four games, including the Big Ten championship game against previously unbeaten Wisconsin.
“Not only is he not a weak link, he has gone in there and moved people off the ball,” Studrawa said. “We were going against the top three run defenses in America (in Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin), and we were moving people off the ball physically and performing very well. And Demetrius, he excelled.”
He is a success as returns home, a short drive from where he starred a few years ago at Episcopal High School in Fort Worth.
“It’s amazing,” Knox said. “My high school coach (Aaron Beck) got me ready to come here, gave me that first chance. So now I’m coming back to Texas, and it’s ‘Hey coach, want to come to a game?’ Him seeing me start, that’s a good feeling.”