Ex-pitcher Bauserman happy to be Buckeyes' QB
It's been a long, strange trip for Joe Bauserman, from baseball phenom to Buckeyes quarterback.
A prized baseball and football star in Virginia and Florida high schools, he spent three years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization as a pitcher. When that path seemed to fade, he walked on at Ohio State to play football. Now, he finds himself as the starting quarterback for the nation's No. 15 team, the focal point of 105,000 fans each Saturday afternoon.
A hardy outdoorsman - his college major is Fisheries & Wildlife - the 25-year-old Bauserman isn't overwhelmed by how long it took him to become an overnight sensation. He doesn't have regrets and he accepts what comes his way.
''If I would have stuck it (baseball) out, who knows what would have happened?'' he said. ''I might have made it. I might have had shoulder problems, I might not. Whatever.''
Quiet and unassuming, he's the elder statesman of an Ohio State program that has been pounded by NCAA allegations, violations and sanctions over the past 10 months. The controversy helped force three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor to the NFL, opening a huge vacancy that Bauserman has helped to fill.
Bauserman, along with true freshman backup Braxton Miller, were both superlative in a season-opening 42-0 victory over Akron. The Buckeyes take on Toledo this week. Ahead lie difficult games against Miami, Colorado, Michigan State and Nebraska.
Many think the talented Miller will gradually take over the job. But not everyone.
''I've seen that young man and I just think he's a winner,'' Toledo coach Tim Beckman said of Bauserman. ''He fits with what Ohio State wants to do.''
During his three years at Lincoln High in Tallahassee, Fla., Bauserman had been pursued to play football at every Top 25 program in the country. Instead, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates after being taken in the fourth round of the 2004 amateur draft as a pitcher. He had a fastball in the low 90s, a sharp breaking curve and one publication said he had the best changeup in the Pirates' farm system.
''We were both drafted the same year and he's just one of those guys I gravitated toward, our personalities were a lot alike,'' said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker, Bauserman's road roommate while playing in the Gulf Coast League.
Bauserman was 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA in nine games that rookie season, striking out 35 in 38 2-3 innings with 10 walks. He followed it up the next year with a 6-2 mark at Class A Williamsport and a 2.84 ERA. The following summer, at Class A Hickory in the Sally League, his numbers fell to 6-8 with a 4.01 ERA.
Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen played with him in what would be his final season.
''He was already kind of on his way out,'' he said. ''He had a good arm, you knew that just by watching him. He was into football, I guess he just thought that was the way to go.''
There was the pull of football, of course, but there were also the endless bus trips and the monotonous routine of the low minors.
Even those that make it to the majors have doubts along the way.
''When you're on the bus at 4 a.m., going to God knows where,'' Walker said, ''like Columbus, Ga., maybe, and you've got a game in 10 hours, there are some guys that are like, `Why in the world would you do that?'''
Bauserman was one of those guys.
''Baseball, it's just a different lifestyle,'' he said this week. ''You don't have as much structure.''
He had reached a crossroads.
''The whole quitting-baseball thing was kind of a combination of getting hurt a little bit and then just getting an education,'' he said. ''I wanted to get back and get my education.''
So he wrote to Ohio State, among other schools, about switching gears, about switching to football.
Jim Tressel, then the Ohio State coach, offered him a chance to walk on. Bauserman knew he would be: a) paying his own way and, b) stuck behind several top recruits. After he redshirted his freshman year, the Buckeyes recruited Terrelle Pryor out of Jeannette, Pa., acclaimed as the No. 1 college quarterback prospect in the country.
Other less mature players might have quit; Bauserman, who has since earned a scholarship, just kept plugging along. He was happy to contribute on scout teams, to dissect plays in the film room, to prep the defense, to help instruct Pryor. The big, 6-foot-1, 230-pound redheaded kid saw only limited playing time the next three seasons while Pryor took almost every snap that counted.
This summer, Pryor surrendered his senior season to jump to the pros while he was embroiled in an NCAA investigation for taking cash and discounted tattoos from the subject of a federal drug-trafficking probe.
Suddenly, Bauserman and three other candidates were the only scholarship quarterbacks left on the roster. Bauserman, a steady hand who knew all the plays and made few mistakes, won the job with a solid performance in spring and preseason workouts.
What has set apart Bauserman has been his maturity, competitiveness and patience.
''He's that guy that can do it all,'' said interim coach Luke Fickell, who took over when Tressel was pushed out in May for his role in the ongoing scandal.
Fickell was pleased with Bauserman's statistics in the opener. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards and three scores, and ran for 32 yards on six carries with another touchdown.
But Fickell was even more enthused about something else.
''I was impressed more with his demeanor,'' he said, ''the emotion he showed, the leadership, the confidence.''
Even though Bauserman is years older than most of his teammates, he is still one of the guys. Sure, instead of living in a cramped apartment he owns his own house (and complains about having to mow the lawn and how hard it was to put up a fence this summer). But he still fits in with the group.
''He might be older than a couple of our coaches,'' Fickell cracked. ''But it's not like he's 25 years old with a wife and two kids. He's still a college kid. Is he more mature than maybe some of the others? I hope so.''
Bauserman said he doesn't feel like the team's old man.
''I feel like I'm one of the guys,'' he said. ''I go in there and try to mix it up with the guys and have a good time.''
He's not overly introspective. He doesn't spend his days contemplating what might have been had he remained an integral part of the youth movement with the Pirates.
He just knows he's happy right where he is now.
''You can sit there and say, `What if?' and everything,'' he said. ''I try not to do that because you'll just wear yourself out. I enjoyed the ride. I wouldn't change it for anything.''
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed from Pittsburgh.
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap