COLUMBUS, Ohio – Mike Adams came to Ohio State as one of the most acclaimed offensive line recruits in the country.
Three years later — after a vague suspension, several injuries and a world of questions — he's finally holding down the important spot at left tackle for the No. 2 Buckeyes.
Even he admits he didn't think it would take this long.
"Coming in here, honestly I didn't," he said, appearing to carefully choose his words. "But the way things worked out are fine with me. It's going good now and I'll just try to keep it rolling."
Big things were expected of Adams when he signed on with the Buckeyes, a 6-foot-8, 300-pound man-child of a tackle out of suburban Dublin's Coffman High School.
But things kept getting in the way. First, there were the injuries — a shoulder in the spring of 2008 that required surgery, then a foot injury that ended his freshman season prematurely. Expected to take over the job in 2009, he was suspended for two games for unspecified disciplinary reasons. He returned from that exile to start four games before a knee injury in October led to surgery and another early end to a season.
So far this season, he has been solid at the tackle spot, literally protecting quarterback Terrelle Pryor's back.
"In the past couple of years, I think he let some stuff bother him," defensive lineman Nathan Williams said of the soft-spoken, intelligent Adams. "When he'd get beat, he would get a negative attitude. But he doesn't think about it anymore now that he's a starter. He's older and he's mature."
Adams hints that it took time for him to accept what the coaches were telling him.
"The mental part of the game is the hill you have to climb when you come in as a freshman," he said. "These guys will teach you how to play, they'll teach you good techniques and everything, but it's up to you to learn your playbook."
In a manner of speaking, left tackle is the last line of defense for an offense. When a right-handed quarterback drops back in the pocket, he is susceptible to a jarring blind-side hit if the left tackle lets his man through. Jarring blind-side hits lead to injuries. And that's not good.
The position can be a lonely one. Fans seldom notice the 50 or 60 or 70 times that a left tackle does his job in a game. But one slip can lead to a quarterback getting leveled or carried off the field, and all fingers point directly at the guy who should have prevented it.
It takes a unique personality to handle that responsibility. Adams fits the profile.
"I've been playing tackle for a lot of years, since I was like 6 years old," he said, his heavily tattooed arms flexing as he searched for the right words. "It feels great blocking out on an island. You know, you have that responsibility and you never want TP or any quarterback to get hit in the back, so you just take it upon yourself. It's actually a pride thing, offensive tackle, not to get your quarterback hit."
Coach Jim Tressel recognizes that Adams will grow into the job.
"Mike is steadily improving," he said. "The key to being good is staying in there and getting your practice time which he has done thus far this year, and then learning from all the experiences that you have against all the different styles of teams you're going to play. Some (defensive) guys are going to be small or quick guys, some guys are going to be rushers, some guys are going to be spin guys or whatever. I think the more he experiences, he's going to be a good player."
Williams, who frequently goes up against Adams in practice, agrees.
"I was just watching film," he said. "I looked at (fellow defensive end Solomon Thomas) and said, 'Mike's gotten a lot better.' And he has. It's obvious to everyone."
Adams was selected as Ohio State's offensive lineman of the week in its 43-7 win over Ohio University. Some expected him to have won the award years ago.
Now he's thinking about winning it again when the Buckeyes (3-0) play Eastern Michigan (0-3) on Saturday.
"It's something as offensive linemen that we all strive to win," he said. "If you do your job right, if you do everything you're supposed to do, everything you're taught to do, you hope you win it. It's a great feeling to come out and get it this week. It's another big week coming up. (I'm going to) come out and compete for it again."