Pitcock a player on the field, character off it
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's an ancient truth that the trenches are home to both the biggest bodies and biggest personalities on a football field. There are many engaging minds amid all that muscle.
In this Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, the strongest arms, thickest thighs and most boisterous brain might all belong to the same guy: Ohio State defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock.
That is, if you think a 295-pound man who pulls his bushy afro back with what looks like a woman field hockey player's headband is interesting.
If you are intrigued by a guy fellow team captain Doug Datish compared to a goat.
If you are curious about someone who nearly gouged teammates with a thrown knife during one of his legendary motivational presentations.
Quinn Pitcock? Pretty phenomenal player. Pretty fascinating person.
Not necessarily in that order.
"He's crazy," fellow fifth-year senior defensive lineman Joel Penton said, with seemingly genuine affection in his voice. "The guy's crazy."
The guy has done a lot on the field for these undefeated Buckeyes: Pitcock led the team in sacks with eight, despite playing an interior position that draws double teams and has heavy run-stopping responsibilities; he was second on the team in tackles for loss with 11; and he totaled 36 tackles on the year. That was enough to make him a first-team All-American and a Lombardi Award finalist.
It's his ability to out-leverage blockers that earned him the goat label from center Datish, who after five years is flat worn out with trying to block Pitcock in practice. Even at 6-foot-3, Pitcock has an uncanny ability to get his pad level beneath opposing linemen's.
"His legs should be reversed, he's so low," Datish said. "They should bend backward."
Like a goat's. Naturally.
"I do have great leg strength," Pitcock acknowledged, without copping to cloven hooves. "I have always had that to my advantage. But what has helped me the last four years is learning that your hands are the most important thing. I've worked on using my hands to get past offensive linemen.
Pitcock is something of a technique freak, and can be a bit obsessive about his film study. His intelligence and high motor work well with the goat legs and lower-body power.
But the out-of-uniform Pitcock might be even more valuable to the undefeated Buckeyes. He's been a team captain at every stage of his football career, and his leadership seems to flow throughout this Ohio State squad.
"It is an honor [to be a captain]," Pitcock said. "It's such a special privilege to be part of an even smaller fraternity within the fraternity at Ohio State. I take it with pride."
He takes special pride in the presentations he makes to teammates before every game. The Buckeyes' four captains all speak in a players-only meeting, and the first three -- quarterback Troy Smith, Datish and defensive lineman David Patterson -- usually use the standard captain material: togetherness, effort, attitude, etc.
Players don't want to give up many details, but made it clear that the humor can stray far beyond PG-13. Perhaps even beyond R.
"Oh, God, he's come up with some whoppers," offensive tackle Kirk Barton said.
"Everyone kind of has a line in their mind they can't cross," Penton said. "His line is much further than anybody else's."
A line for decency? Taste? What?
"Both," Penton said, smiling.
Pitcock clearly flirted with the line when he grabbed a butter knife and fired it at the end of one presentation. It zipped right between two teammates.
"I said, 'That's great aim,'" Penton recalled. "He said it actually slipped. He was trying to aim higher."
When he's not throwing knives at player meetings, Pitcock will entertain teammates by teasing out his curled hair into a full-blown, Oscar Gamble-style 1970s afro. He's been known to walk into meetings like that, just to get a reaction from defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.
"One day he looked like Ladies Man from 'Saturday Night Live,'" Barton said. "It was huge."
The regular-look perm, which Pitcock said he's been growing out since last winter, is usually kept pulled back in the girl's headband. The look drew approval from the Fiesta Bowl queen, Stephanie Holland, at media day Friday.
"I love it," she said admiringly.
But the woman who really drew attention at Pitcock's side during one of the media interview sessions this week was his grandmother, Kitty Church. Turns out she lives right next door to the media hotel in Paradise Valley, so she came over one day while some of the Buckeyes were there answering questions.
It didn't take long before the minicams and microphones had her surrounded. She loved it.
"She likes talking about her grandkids," Pitcock said with a shrug.
Kitty Church moved to Arizona nine years ago because of emphysema, but she's a born-and-bred Buckeye with deep football roots.
"I'm a rabid fan," she said.
She was a cheerleader at Piqua High School -- the same school where Quinn starred, and where his younger brother, Jafe, is currently a star. Her dad was the team doctor and she remembers being on the bench as early as age 3. Her former husband, Pitcock's grandfather, was a star player at Miami (Ohio) under Ara Parseghian.
And now, with satellite television, the tiny 71-year-old watches every Ohio State game. Intensely.
"I don't sit down," Church said. "I'm like Joe Paterno on the sideline: I march. I have four televisions and I walk from room to room. I know nothing about the game, but you'd think I do."
Visitors during games are strictly forbidden.
"If I have people over, I'll miss a play," she explained. "They'll talk to me. I don't want to talk. I don't want to discuss anything."
To relieve stress, Pitcock bought grandma a foam Ohio State brick to throw at the TV during times of crisis.
"I don't know if she uses it," he said. "But it's available."
Kitty Church will not be at the game Monday night -- you can't do much marching when you're stuck in a seat at University of Phoenix Stadium. But rest assured, she will be watching on any/all of four TVs in her house.
Her eyes will be focused on her grandson in the middle of the trenches, charged with chasing Florida's quarterbacks and clogging Florida's running lanes. It takes a big man to do that job, and this big man comes equipped with a big personality, too.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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