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Mike Weber is running out of the shadows of his Ohio State predecessors

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- An old-school tailback on a new-age, power-spread assembly line, Mike Weber can’t be nailed down with just a single comparison.

The bruising rushing style screams Carlos Hyde. The willingness to chip in as a lead blocker or sacrifice his body in pass protection is a reminder he served as an understudy to Ezekiel Elliott.

But the video tapes Ohio State’s latest star rusher watched as he cultivated a running style prominently featured Walter Payton. And growing up in Michigan, he counts Barry Sanders as a golf buddy and occasional confidant.

Rather than mold his game after just one of his predecessors with the Buckeyes or either of those NFL legends, though, Weber has seemingly plucked a few of the best traits from each of them. And it has only taken four games for the redshirt freshman to prove that he’s got enough athleticism and versatility to emulate each of their different approaches to carrying the football.

“That’s kind of a hard question,” Weber said. “Really I just go out there and play my hardest. Those are all great running backs, and I have a lot of work to do.

“I want to be myself at the end of the day.”

Being Mike Weber is working out just fine so far. And he’s already well on his way to eliminating any need for his game to be held up for scrutiny against the dynamic rushers who came before him in Ohio State’s backfield.

Hyde and Elliott have helped raise an already outrageously high standard at a position Urban Meyer calls the “Cadillac” of college football given the rich tradition the program has at tailback. But Weber has seamlessly picked up the torch and sits on top of the Big Ten’s leaderboard averaging 20 yards more per game than anybody else in the league, a remarkably fast start considering he’s still only played four career games with Ohio State after watching from the sideline a year ago.

For the most part, Weber’s punishing, physical style is reminding the Buckeyes of Hyde and the way he barreled to 31 rushing touchdowns during Meyer’s first two seasons with the school. And after getting tracked down short of the end zone on one long run last week against Rutgers, Meyer doubled down by joking that Weber didn’t quite have Elliott’s breakaway speed and “the guy [Ohio State] had last year wouldn’t have got caught.”

But Weber has also fully embraced the dirty work as a blocker that helped endear Elliott to the coaching staff and made him the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL draft last spring. Weber also isn’t a slouch when it comes to his high-end speed and has already broken four runs of 20 yards or more this season -- including carries of 49 and 46 against Rutgers as part of a breakout performance that earned him Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.

“He's a banger,” Meyer said. “He’s a thumper and a plus-yardage guy most of the time. Zeke was too, but he doesn't have the top end that Zeke has. We're working on that. And Carlos was a great back. We have been fortunate, and I think Mike falls right in that category.

“Mike has great feet, great power, and that's why I compare him a little bit closer to Carlos Hyde.”

Weber has stayed out of that conversation so far, instead letting his game do the talking for him while forging his own identity as a running back.

But he did hear Meyer’s crack about his speed after the win over the Scarlet Knights, going straight to the film and offering up a smiling defense of his skills.

“I saw that in the media when he said that,” Weber said. “The guy didn’t really come from behind. He came from a good angle, so that’s my excuse.”

The Buckeyes don’t really need an apology, of course.

And the truth is, they also don’t need him to copy Hyde or Elliott when the Weber Way is already proving every bit as effective.

“I see a little bit of both,” center Pat Elflein said. “Carlos used to run people over, and Mike’s been doing that a little bit. And you see Mike running and pulling away from guys, so he’s got a little of both.

“Yeah, I’ll take that mix.”