By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – Much was expected of Michael Bennett when he got to Ohio State. But he was used to that.
The son of two West Point graduates, he knew about attention to detail, demands and discipline long before he arrived at OSU in 2011 as a four-star defensive line recruit.
“They have always been super strict and only expected the best,” Bennett said about his parents.
How strict is super strict?
“I was grounded for my entire seventh and eighth grade years because I got B-plusses on my report card,” Bennett said. “I always bring that up to them and they say, ‘Well, you should have studied more.’ It was always grades first and it didn’t matter what the grade was, you had to try your hardest. I would always just coast my way through, get a B-plus and be grounded.
“If I wanted to go to some party in high school and was thinking I could sneak my way out they would ask me what’s the address, who are the parents, what’s their number, what’s the name of the kid and his number and all this different stuff just to make sure. It got to the point where if I wanted to go to a party, I didn’t even bother. I just didn’t want to answer all the questions,” he said.
Bennett started all 13 games last season and had 11.5 tackles for losses and 7.5 quarterback sacks and was second-team All-Big Ten. Those numbers might have been even better if not for a nagging shoulder injury the second half of the season that limited his use of his left arm.
As a sophomore, he missed the first four games with a groin injury and rushed back before it was completely healed. He also admits he hadn’t yet completely bought into coach Urban Meyer’s way of doing things when he took over in 2012.
He got his first career start in the Michigan game in 2012 when John Simon was unable to dress because of an injury. That was a turning point in his career, he says.
Bennett was recruited by Jim Tressel after being a Division I All-Ohio player at Centerville High School.
By the time he got to Ohio State, Tressel was gone, Luke Fickell was the interim coach and the season took a quick turn south. Then Meyer was hired.
Bennett has found a home playing one of the two inside positions on OSU’s defensive line.
That line is one of the strengths of the Buckeyes’ team and might be one of the best in the country. Ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa were five-star recruits, as was the other inside player, Adolphus Washington.
“I’m the one with four stars so I’m the one bringing the team down,” Bennett joked. “I think all four of us are NFL-caliber athletes. All four of us can go to the NFL.”
He has been named a first-team All-American on some preseason teams and has been projected as a first-round draft choice. But those expectations aren’t the ones he is interested in.
Bennett expects to be a leader on the defense and says that is something he learned from both parents.
He says that should be easier now that he has established himself on the field.
“I was kind of a no-name last year and I was a no-name who had to be a leader of the defensive line and that’s pretty stressful,” Bennett said. “You have to earn respect on the field and guys follow playmakers. This year it’s a little bit easier because I think to my teammates and to my coaches I have proved myself and they trust me and know I’m a playmaker.”
And he wants to complete the quest for an undefeated season and a national championship that slipped away with losses to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl last season.
“When we went 12-0 through the regular season last year that felt great. But those are all steps to get to what you really want,” he said. “We took the steps to the door and then got kicked off the porch.
“We need to finish it. We need to get through that door,” he said.