No other high school athlete has entered the college ranks with more hype than Terrelle Pryor. The superstar rushed and passed for over 4200 yards in his high school career at Jeanette Senior in Jeanette, Pennsylvania. At 6'6", then a lean 225, the senior led his football and basketball teams to state championships in the same year - a first in State history.
Let’s backtrack one year from today. Todd Boeckman is the returning starter, senior, and captain. There was a 50-50 split in the speculation. One side predicted a two-quarterback system like Florida used in 2006. The other side(myself included) figured that Pryor would play here and there, but that he would not have a major impact as a true freshman.
The Scarlet and Gray faithful were hoping that Boeckman would get over his late '07 slump and get back to throwing passes to players wearing the same uniform. It didn’t happen. Maybe it was USC, or maybe it was the play of the offensive line, but something had to change, and quickly. Terrelle stepped in and became the starter for the remainder of the season in week 4 against Troy. Well, that’s not entirely true. Tressel started Boeckman under center in the Fiesta Bowl. The move had nothing to do with talent, or the way Terrelle had played to that point, but it had everything to do with Tressel respecting his senior leader, and throwing a curveball at Will Muschamp, the Texas defensive coordinator..
So how does the most highly touted player ever -live up to expectations? Is it even possible? This is a task made more difficult on the heels of Troy Smith and the 2002 National Championship.
Pryor was effective in his big stage debut against USC. He didn’t get many opportunities but you could see the upside as he glided past 4 linebackers that would go on the first day of the NFL draft. The line, nothing special, 7 for 9 for 52 yards in the air and 11 carries for 40 yards on the ground. The rushing stats were deceiving though. When Pryor wasn’t getting snatched up in the backfield(4 of those 11attempts), he rushed 7 times for 56 yards. That’s 8 yards a carry against the best defense in the country last year.
Pryor’s speed is deceiving. With his long legs he sometimes appears as if he’s jogging - only the defenders keep losing ground. In a late summer workout Pryor ran an electronically timed 40 yard dash in 4.33 seconds. If not for the two anchors of the 4x100 Ohio State relay team(Lamaar Thomas and Chimdi Chekwa) confirming the time(reluctantly) - most people wouldn’t believe it - some still may not. When questioned about the time at Media Day Pryor said, “what do you think I ran - If I told you I ran a 4.3 would you believe me”? I believe you Terrelle. I saw you embarrass linebackers, defensive ends, and safeties all year. It’s not just Pryor recording the fastest time on the team, it’s the players he outran, and the fact that he is, after all, a rather large human being. Stopping a speedburner that now weighs 240 pounds is much easier said than done, and Pryor could easily top 1,000 yards on the ground this season. The key is can the Sophmore add another 2 through the air.
In 10 starts Pryor went 9-1 with 1311 yards passing and 631 yards rushing. He finished the season with the highest quarterback rating in the conference(146.5) and was named the BigTen Freshman of the Year. Hard to believe, but to this point, Pryor has lived up to the hype.
Pryor’s’ commitment to Ohio State over Michigan may have had something to do with his development as a quarterback. He hinted that OSU may better prepare him to play the position at the next level. As a Qb, it’s hard to shake the ‘running quarterback’ title, and the baggage that comes with it - skeptical draft projections and disrespectful defensive backfields. Pryor seems determined to prove he can throw the ball, all while readily admitting,”I’m a running quarterback”
The youngsters' best asset may be his mental toughness. He played better in pressure situations last season. In the Northwestern game he converted 70% on third and long(7-10). Tressel often states that no player studies more or wants to win more than #2. As time passes it becomes appearant that Terrelle Pryor will not be happy until he meets his OWN expectations, and believe it or not, those expectations may be as high or higher than those of the average Ohio State fan.
This off-season Pryor worked on his throwing motion and filling out his 6'6" frame. His delivery looks more fluid and his legs and arms have gained a noticable amount of muscle mass. The extra strength should help him shred more arm tackles(something he was already very good at). Once again, the expectations are high, as the 20 year-old was named the Pre-Season Player of the Year in the BigTen. The Buckeyes are ranked in the top 10 in both the AP and pre-season coaches polls and the fans are getting impatient in terms of winning a big game. Personally, I don't feel that Pryor will ever have the natural throwing abililty of a Troy Smith, but that doesn't mean that he can't duplicate some of the other feats of his predecessor - winning the Heisman Trophy and bringing home a National Championship. Smith could run the ball - but this is Michael Vick in Josh Freeman's' body. Pryor is the type of athlete that comes around once or twice every 50 years, a game-changer, a player who's ceiling burns a hole in the ozone.
Can he live up to expectations? Not only can he live up to them - he can raise the bar for every player and team that follows him, literally.