Ohio State RB Pittman ready to prove himself again

Updated: August 17, 2006, 8:28 AM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Antonio Pittman had a spectacular 2005 season with little attention and fanfare.

The Ohio State tailback ran for 1,331 yards -- the 10th-best single-season mark in school history -- and he's at best the third-most recognizable player on an explosive offense led by quarterback Troy Smith and receiver Ted Ginn Jr.

"I don't see that I get overlooked," he said. "My time will come. Everything must come to light sooner or later. I just have to maintain and do what I've done since last year -- be productive."

His teammates and coaches, however, recognize his value to the Buckeyes.

Last winter, some Buckeyes fans heralded the signing of Chris Wells as the next great Ohio State back. Running backs coach Dick Tressel, brother of head coach Jim, went so far as to compare Wells to Cleveland Browns immortal Jim Brown.

When a broadcaster asked offensive coordinator Jim Bollman last week if Wells was just lying in wait to take Pittman's job, Bollman nearly lost it.

"Now wait a minute. Antonio Pittman is THE No. 1 tailback," Bollman said, his eyes narrowing and his voice rising.

Bollman pointed out that only one back in Ohio State history -- Archie Griffin -- gained more yards (1,577) as a sophomore than Pittman.

"All the great backs who have been here and Archie's the only guy to gain more yards than him as a sophomore?" Bollman continued, still boiling. "C'mon. Who's going to come in here and take his place? No way."

Smith said Pittman is the linchpin of the offense.

"Antonio Pittman to me is probably the best back that I've ever played with, the best back I've ever handed the ball to," he said. "He's only 195 pounds and he runs like he's 230 pounds -- a full head of steam straight ahead at whomever's in his way. He's everything that a tailback has to be in the Big Ten."

Tell that to the Big Ten coaches.

Minnesota's Laurence Maroney and Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun were first-team all-conference selections in balloting by the coaches last year, with Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton and Penn State's Tony Hunt on the second team.

Pittman more than held his own against three of them in head-to-head matchups (Ohio State didn't play Wisconsin and Calhoun). Maroney went for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Buckeyes, with Pittman rushing for 186 and two TDs. Sutton ran for 93 yards and caught a scoring pass and Pittman had 132 yards and ran for one score.

In Ohio State's only Big Ten loss, Pittman and Hunt fought to a statistical draw, the former going for 58 yards on 15 carries and the latter 64 on 16.

Pittman has tried to school Wells this year, showing what a team player he is.

Despite his big rushing total a year ago, he said he'd like to go for 1,700 yards this season.

What means more to him, however, is the strong endorsements from his teammates and coaches.

"That means a lot, but this is a new year," he said. "I feel as if I'm coming in here as a freshman. I'm hungry. It's up to me to hold the job and prove myself once again."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press