Ohio State quarterback takes Heisman publicity in stride.
CHICAGO — The Big Ten hasn’t had a Heisman Trophy winner since Troy Smith in 2006.
Braxton Miller will go into the season with plenty of hype to take home college football’s most prized award.
Wearing a brown suit and red-striped shirt, the Ohio State quarterback faced a steady stream of reporters Thursday morning at the Chicago Hilton on the second day of Big Ten Media Days.
He hasn’t generated offseason headlines like the incumbent Heisman winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. Fine by him.
“I’ve always been me,” Miller said. “I get along with everybody. If a fan comes up and says, ‘Hey, are you Braxton Miller?’ I’ll shake their hand.”
Miller — who threw for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last year — doesn’t get caught up in all the talk surrounding Manziel. He took a diplomatic approach Thursday.
“I can’t speak for him, but I’m my own person,” Miller said. “I was always brought up to be humble. I’m just going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing. When the lights are turned on, it’s a different type of game. Outside of the football field, I’m just laid-back. I enjoy each and every day.”
Miller and the Buckeyes will visit Champaign on Nov. 16. The one time Miller has played at Memorial Stadium, he completed one pass, a 17-yard touchdown to Jake Stoneburner, in four attempts and rushed for 34 yards on 12 carries during Ohio State’s 17-7 win in 2011.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman knows he’ll likely see an improved version of Miller than what Illinois witnessed last year, when Miller threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown in a 52-22 rout last November in Columbus, Ohio.
“I’ve known Braxton since his high school days when he was a phenomenal high school football player, and now he’s a phenomenal college football player,” Beckman said. “He’s a very talented and very determined young man. He’s the guy at Ohio State that you’ve got to be concerned about wherever he is and whenever he touches the football.”
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A year ago, Penn State was the talk of Big Ten Media Days for all reasons not related to football.
“There’s definitely not as much noise in the background,” Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson said. “We’re finally able to focus on what we came here to do, which is get a great education and play some football. It’s been kind of peaceful.”
Safety Malcolm Willis said there’s a little less scrutiny regarding the program, but the glare is there.
“It’s really not much different because we depend on each other,” Willis said. “As long as everybody in the locker room believes in each other, that’s all we need. We feel like we’re looked down upon in a lot of cases, but if everybody in our locker room ... knows the type of team we can be, that’s all that matters.”
The Nittany Lions are still on a postseason ban because of NCAA sanctions handed down in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. When Penn State plays Nov. 30 at Wisconsin, that’s the end of their careers for players like Carson, who finished with 85 tackles last year, and Willis.
Just bringing up the topic isn’t high on Willis’ priority list.
“I really have yet to start thinking about it,” he said. “Just saying it is making my mind go crazy. I’ve been here so long, it’s like, ‘What am I going to do?’ ”
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Two of the more traditional uniforms in the Big Ten Leaders Division belong to Penn State and Wisconsin. Both programs unveiled some modifications last year, with Penn State adding players’ names to the back of the jersey, a big deal to fans in State College. The Nittany Lions still will have names on the back of their jerseys this season.
“When you see guys from Oregon getting all those new uniforms, you look at them and go, ‘Wow,’ but at Penn State, we really could care less,” Willis said. “When we first got here, we might be like, ‘Oh, they’re plain, they’re this, they’re that,’ but as you get older, you start to appreciate them because it doesn’t change. It’s consistent. People notice it when we come out on the field. Those basic blues. That’s Penn State all the way.”
Wisconsin wore new adidas uniforms last year in its game at Nebraska. Wisconsin’s getup featured a much different look than the normal all-white road jerseys the Badgers usually sport.
“It’s nice to switch it up every now and then, especially when you don’t do it that often,” Wisconsin running back James White said. “I knew it wasn’t that big of a change, but for us, it was definitely exciting to switch out of the norm.”
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It was easy to pull up a chair at the circular table with a white tablecloth that Mitch Ewald sat at.
The Indiana senior was the lone kicker or punter at Big Ten Media Days.
“It’s a humbling experience, and I’m very honored because I know that it’s a little bit out of the norm to have a specialist here,” said Ewald, who made 15 of 20 field goals last year for coach Kevin Wilson’s team and is on this year’s Lou Groza Award preseason watch list. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m here to be a team leader and football player first and a kicker last, but hopefully this encourages all the kickers out there to work hard. It’s a great experience.”
The Hoosiers haven’t played in a bowl game since 2007. With the success last school year of the men’s basketball team (first outright Big Ten title since 1993 and another Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament), baseball team (advanced to the College World Series for the first time in program history) and men’s soccer (NCAA champion), Ewald knows the pressure is on for the football program to excel.
“Coach Wilson has done a pretty good job of getting it in our heads that we owe it to this university,” Ewald said. “Indiana deserves to have a very good football team.”
Ewald is a Naperville native who played high school football at Waubonsie Valley in Aurora.
“I’ve got sort of a soft spot for Illinois,” Ewald said. “I’ve got a lot of buddies who go to the U of I, so it’s a good place.”
Ewald might hear grief from a few of his friends, but it’s all good-natured.
“I like to think that they just want to see me be successful,” Ewald said with a laugh. “I’ve actually really, really always enjoyed playing at the U of I. I think (Memorial Stadium) has got a mix of an older type but with new parts. I think it’s a lot of fun there.”
With Illinois taking Derek Dimke a year before Ewald graduated from high school, Illinois was not at the top of his possible destinations. No hard feelings, but getting recruited for kicking is a tad different than playing quarterback.
“You try to go to as many kicking camps as you can, and as weird as that may sound, there’s kicking gurus out there,” Ewald said. “You’re just trying to get exposure and your tape out to as many places as you can. I will say it happens a little bit slower, so you’ve got to kind of sit around and wait while all the guys at the positions make their decisions.”
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Darrell Hazell is one of five former Mid-American Conference coaches now leading a Big Ten team.
The new Purdue coach has a defensive tackle in Bruce Gaston who Illinois heavily recruited before the Chicago St. Rita product picked the Boilermakers.
“I just really wanted to expand a little bit,” said Gaston, who had 28 tackles last season, including 51/2 for loss. “Obviously, I didn’t go too far, but I wanted to try some unfamiliar things. I think that’s what it is sometimes, too, (with Illinois high school players going out of state) whether it’s something as small as wanting to experience a new restaurant or something like that.”
Gaston said it was rough seeing former Purdue coach Danny Hope fired a day after Purdue’s last regular season game.
He’s optimistic Hazell can turn the Boilermakers back into a well-respected program like it was under Joe Tiller.
“The transition has been pretty smooth,” Gaston said. “He’s a coach who is very confident and can get his players on board to buy into his system. He demands you to be professional. We’re competing much more with each other in groups and as individuals, and that’s going to make us much better on game days.”
Three items Illinois coach Tim Beckman, Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Illinois right tackle Corey Lewis said Thursday during Big Ten Media Days that caught the ear of football writer MATT DANIELS in Chicago:
Beckman on ... dealing with criticism
“Everybody wants to win, and everybody wants to be a part of winning. There’s some comments that are made that are unfair, but in this profession, you’ve got to live with it. There were times, personally, where I don’t think I handled the adversity as well as I should have. I probably tried to overdo some things.”
Scheelhaase on ... transfer Wes Lunt
“We’ve gotten a chance to see him, hang out with him and work out with him. It’s been a great transition. He’s a guy that fits well with our quarterback group. He’s pretty laid-back and easygoing. We’ve all enjoyed being around him, and I think he’s enjoyed making this transition. The way that I was treated when I came in as a freshman and was new to this program with that respect is the same thing I want to pass along.”
Lewis on ... his second home, Memorial Stadium
“I’m always in the stadium taking care of my body or working on my body to better myself in any way possible. I really enjoy it. J Leman always talks about his last year and how he wouldn’t leave the stadium because he barely had any classes to go to, so he continuously watched film. I remember him telling me about the Ohio State game (in 2007) that he knew off a certain formation what plays they were going to run, so that’s why he was able to have the game that he had. Things like that give me the opportunity to be a better football player.”