"I'M NOT A front-row type of guy," Braxton Miller says with a sheepish shrug. "But I know now I need to sit there, so that's where you'll find me."
The Buckeyes' junior quarterback has just finished a morning tutoring session where he stayed true to his word. This is the new Braxton, the one who holds teammates accountable, schedules his own "mandatory" practice sessions with the entire offense and has overcome his third-row attitude. The transformation began the minute OSU's undefeated 2012 season ended without a bowl. Due to an NCAA-mandated postseason ban from the Jim Tressel-Terrelle Pryor era of shame, Urban Meyer's first Buckeyes squad was left to wonder what might have been.
But Miller (6'2", 215) still won Big Ten offensive POY honors, ranking third among FBS passers (minimum 10 QB starts) with 105.9 rushing yards per game. His face was plastered across Columbus; fellow students asked for pictures in class and followed him from study hall to his car, attention that the mellow kid from Huber Heights, Ohio, wasn't wired to handle. So coaches and teammates pulled their star aside to offer some advice: If you're going to be the face of our team, you have to lead, and not just by example.
"His best quality is humility," says Jack Mewhort, a senior offensive tackle who began saving Miller a front-row seat at team meetings. "But that's been a hurdle for him too. He was afraid to jaw because he didn't want to be a jerk by getting on players who aren't as naturally talented. We told him we want him to speak up. He's taken it to heart and run with it, and that kid can run."
But can he throw? Last year Miller's 170 passing ypg and 58 percent completion rate didn't rank top five in the Big Ten, much less compare with high-profile dual threats like Johnny Manziel (285, 68 percent) and Marcus Mariota (206, 69 percent). To be fair, Miller was supposed to have 2011 to acclimate as a backup, but Tattoo-gate sent Tressel and Pryor packing, and the true freshman became the starter for a 6-7 season under interim coach Luke Fickell. Then Miller had to learn Meyer's dizzying system within months.
"I'd grade myself a C," Miller says. "My scramble numbers were awful. My feet got jittery when my first option wasn't available. And I always thought leading by example was enough. That's not true. Biting my tongue isn't going to make us better."
Determined to raise his grade, Miller paid his way to California for footwork lessons with QB coach George Whitfield Jr. over winter break. Meyer enrolled him and other vets in a leadership course (yes, he sat up front). On the field, teammates already see (and hear) the results. Miller has added a wrinkle to his warmup: Now workouts don't start until he hits receivers on each sideline with five straight to the chest. "It's a powerful feeling when he walks onto the field," says senior backup quarterback Kenny Guiton. "We want to play up to his level. He's made it clear that if we don't want to put in the work, we have no place on his team. And make no mistake, this is his team."
Miller is even talking to himself. "I have four little monsters in my head," he says. One tells him he can pass for 300 yards in at least eight regular-season games. Another calms those happy feet. The smart one reminds him to stay healthy by telling his O-line to hold now and then. Finally, there's the loudmouth, constantly buzzing in his ear about a chance to play for the BCS championship.
And the Heisman?
"Oh yeah, I think about that too," he says. "But if I can check off the list in my head, then I should have a good chance."
Not only to be sitting in the front row but standing front and center.