Urban Meyer Would Love to Have Him, but Craft is Right Where He Belongs
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Coming out of high school, Aaron Craft probably never would have had a scholarship offer to play football at Ohio State.
He does now.
If Craft ever feels like turning in his sneakers and gym shorts for some cleats and a pair of shoulder pads, OSU head coach Urban Meyer will have a locker ready for him.
Craft has found a permanent home on the hardwood, but it’s easy to see why Meyer would be intrigued by his school’s starting point guard. He has all the intangibles Ohio State’s football coach is looking for when he sets out across the country to recruit the best players in America.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Craft may not be the biggest or the fastest, but that has never held him back from anything. In fact, it may have helped him get to where he is today. He doesn’t out-bench his opponents and he probably couldn’t beat many of them in a footrace. What he can do is outwork them and outsmart them.
He gets a lot of credit for his instincts on defense and for his impressive intellect, but Craft is the consummate hard-worker. Guys who think they know what it means to work hard are still asleep when Craft starts putting up shots at the gym.
He’s John Simon bottled up and repackaged in a 6-2, 195-pound frame of relentless energy and unflappable calm. He is the son of a football coach, and he was an all-state quarterback at Liberty-Benton High School back in 2008-09 before he ended up in Thad Matta’s locker room.
“I love him,” Meyer said after his third day of practice this spring.
“He could play safety, linebacker, H-back – he would be a great H-back – or take snaps. So I’m going to work with him.”
By taking snaps, Meyer jokingly intimated he would like to have Craft under center for the Buckeyes on the gridiron in 2013. Of course he already has a star quarterback in Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller, but Meyer recently joked about benching No. 5 if No. 4 was willing to put on the pads.
“By the way, Aaron Craft is playing football next year,” Meyer cracked during his appearance at the Toledo chapter of the National Football Foundation’s annual scholar-athlete banquet earlier this week.
“Thad doesn’t know yet. I think Braxton is going to sit, and I’m going to put Aaron right behind center.”
He was kidding, by the way, although Meyer apparently did text his co-worker after the Buckeyes knocked off Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament last weekend in Chicago.
Craft scored 20 points, dished nine assists and grabbed four steals to propel Ohio State to the conference championship game. The Buckeyes would knock off Wisconsin, 50-43, to capture their third Big Ten title in four years under Matta.
“Urban texted me after the game the other day and was talking about Craft,” Matta said with a smile.
“I said, ‘don’t even try it.’ ”
Meyer should be just fine with the guy he has running the offense at Ohio State, but it makes sense why he is so enamored with Craft. He should recognize some of the traits from his days coaching that left-hander, Tim Tebow, down at Florida.
Heart. Toughness. Relentless effort. Leadership. Passion. The will to win.
It’s all there and then some with the junior point guard, who is considered by almost everyone to be the best on-ball defender in the game of college basketball.
“He’s is,” Matta was quick to retort.
“Not considered, he is.”
Along with playing quarterback in high school, Craft was also the starting free safety on the Liberty-Benton football team. He guided LBHS to a pair of regional championships in 2006 and 2009, and a runner-up finish in the 2008 state football playoffs.
He was back on the hardwood eight days later for a holiday tournament with the Eagles, but football has always been in his blood. Aaron has been tagging along with his dad to two-a-days since he was four or five years old, and his older brother Brandon played linebacker at the University of Findlay before a knee injury ended his career as a junior.
Aaron even visited Ohio State for a senior quarterback camp when he was only a sophomore at Liberty-Benton at the invitation of former OSU assistant Dick Tressel.
“They were not recruiting him, but in Dick’s words, ‘we knew about the Craft kid but we heard he was thinking about playing basketball,’” said Aaron’s dad, John Craft.
“They invited him because they were interested in keeping him interested in football. If they went after him, it would have been as a safety, not a quarterback. He was just as a good as a safety because he could make all the calls for your defense. He was a defensive coordinator’s dream.”
Don’t tell that to Luke Fickell, or Thad Matta might really have a battle on his hands. One he probably can’t win if it ends up on the mat.
It’s those same skills, however, which have turned Craft into one of the most despised defensive players in the country. He can read a point guard the way he would read a quarterback, watching the eyes and taking away the passing lanes.
He can feel everything unfolding around him on the court. He understands how all five guys are working together, the way quarterbacks and receivers would draw up a gameplan to get someone open down the field.
“Aaron has that football mentality at times and it definitely gives him a different view,” Matta said.
“I’ve always said this, guys I recruited who played high school football understand things a little bit better than most.
“The fact he’s strong, he’s quick, he’s smart. It definitely makes him a heck of a player.”
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