Boeckman holds his head high

Staff Writer
The Columbus Dispatch

How bad must it have hurt Todd Boeckman's pride to watch last week's game against Troy -- to watch Terrelle Pryor throw four touchdown passes and emphatically seize the Ohio State quarterback job from him?

Despite knowing he would be asked about the situation, there was Boeckman in the interview room afterward. As one of four team captains, he was given a choice whether to show up, and he chose to face the media, stiff upper lip and all.

That's Boeckman, his teammates and coaches say -- first class. And how he acted Saturday is how he has been since, they say.

"He's taking it like a champ," offensive tackle Alex Boone said. "He's doing great in practice."

Coach Jim Tressel said he has recently talked to his sixth-year senior about the situation.

"The best thing about Todd is, No. 1, he prefaces everything with he wants to win," Tressel said. "No. 2, he wants to do all he can do. And he'd love to do more on the field, and if he felt any other way, I'd be nervous, but he's going to press on."

It's an awkward situation, the benching of a senior captain, and rare. In 2001, it happened to quarterback Steve Bellisari, and in 2004, to running back Lydell Ross, but those were because of off-field incidents, not performance.

Ohio State has seen senior quarterbacks take a back seat to youngsters before, most notably in 1968, when sophomore Rex Kern beat out senior Bill Long; in 1973, when sophomore Cornelius Greene supplanted senior co-captain Greg Hare; and in 1978, when freshman Art Schlichter started ahead of senior Rod Gerald.

It certainly was not what Tressel envisioned. Boeckman led the Big Ten in passing efficiency last season as the Buckeyes advanced to the national championship game.

Two years ago, Tressel commented on Illinois freshman quarterback Juice Williams taking over for senior Tim Brasic, and he probably has similar thoughts about the Boeckman-Pryor switch:

"When you change a sophomore over a junior or a freshman over a senior or whatever, any time you've felt one way and then it didn't play out that way, and you have to be honest and objective and do what's best for the team, it hurts a little bit, because you hate to see the disappointment," Tressel said then. "Sometimes it's not all that person's fault, but that's just the way it is and sometimes change has to be made."

Once the change is made, how the benched player responds becomes crucial to team chemistry.

Undoubtedly, Boeckman is upset. His father, Tim Boeckman, recently politely declined comment.

Todd Boeckman might feel like a victim, in part because of the injury to tailback Chris "Beanie" Wells and below-average offensive line play left him vulnerable.

But he's apparently keeping any ill will to himself.

"The way that Todd has handled it has been unbelievable," senior captain James Laurinaitis said. "Instead of being a cancer in the locker room, he's been a guy that's been supporting (Pryor) and trying to help him, and that's why he's a captain. A lot of people around the country wouldn't have handled it with as much class as Todd did."

Handling it and accepting it are two different things. Boeckman is helping Pryor, but he and Tressel both realize the Buckeyes might turn to him again.

"I think Todd has the maturity level and the passion for this team," Tressel said, "that when he gets his opportunities, he's going to take advantage of them."

kgordon@dispatch.com

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