After a slow journey to football, Gholston rushes to success

Former Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston has never questioned his decision to turn pro early.

Two of his Buckeye teammates could have joined him in this draft. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and linebacker James Laurinaitis both opted to return to school for their senior seasons.

Gholston felt it was best to head for the next level. He already had spent four years in college (he was a redshirt in 2004). The rest of his rationale was simple logic. "I just felt like it was my time," Gholston said.

Among NFL talent evaluators at the scouting combine, there is no debating that presumption.

While Gholston would have made Ohio State a strong favorite for the national championship if he stayed in school, he certainly will have no trouble pleasing his future employer. Some scouts like him as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Others favor him as a standup outside linebacker in the 3-4. What they all agree on, however, is this: Opposing quarterbacks should be nervous once this kid finds his comfort zone.

Gholston is the kind of natural pass-rusher teams covet. All you have to do is look at last season's conference championship games to see the impact a strong pass rush can have on a team's success -- all four teams featured strong defensive fronts. Ultimately, the New York Giants used relentless pressure on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to help them win the Super Bowl

It's logical to think that several teams will look to bolster their pass rushes this offseason. Gholston has the talent to make that improvement happen in a hurry.

First off, the man has the athleticism and the size (standing 6-foot-2, weighing 258 pounds) to make life difficult for quarterbacks. He led Ohio State with a school-record 14 sacks last season and he posted 22 ½ total sacks his last two years in college. Gholston also had four sacks against Wisconsin and three against Michigan, including one off the best offensive lineman in this year's class, Wolverines All-America left tackle Jake Long.

"I take it personally," said Long, who gave up one sack this past season and two during his college career. "I wanted to make sure that I was perfect and not let up a sack but Vernon is a great player. He had a good move on me and I let it up."

"I knew all along that I could be that kind player," Gholston said of the Michigan game. "It really was just a matter of doing it on a stage as big as that."

The scariest thing about Gholston is how quickly he has blossomed into a defensive force. He actually didn't play organized football until his sophomore year at Detroit Cass Tech High School. Even then, he only joined the football team after its head coach, Thomas Wilcher, mistook Gholston for a parent when he found the oversized teenager wandering the hallways.

Gholston said he had nothing against football. It's just that he liked playing basketball and watching pro wrestling while growing up. Football, as he said, "just slipped through the cracks."

In fact, Gholston initially found high school football interesting because he enjoyed lifting weights -- a key part of conditioning for the sport.

However, he eventually found other things to like about the game and his obvious talent earned him a scholarship at Ohio State. Gholston liked the fact that the Buckeyes were losing three of their best defensive linemen when he arrived, and the position Ohio State's coaches wanted him to play -- hybrid defensive end/linebacker spot called "Leo" -- could make him a star.

After all, former Buckeyes defenders like Will Smith and Bobby Carpenter both occupied that spot and then they wound up becoming first-round picks.

Gholston had to be versatile enough to rush the passer and drop into coverage at the "Leo" spot, so he'll have any easier adjustment as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.

If he winds up playing as a 4-3 defensive end, he admits there will be a harder transition with lining up in a three-point stance. But Gholston did play offensive line in high school, so he has some experience with putting his hand on the ground. He's also smart enough to pick up any position, especially when considering how he played against Long.

What stands out about Gholston's performance in that game is that he learned so much from playing Michigan a season earlier. In that 2006 meeting, Long was able to control Gholston simply because he was more skilled. But Gholston scoured tape before their 2007 game in order to find weaknesses he could exploit in Long's technique and he clearly discovered some advantages.

That is what great players do -- they adjust to whatever challenges they confront.

So it's fair to think that Gholston will find prosperity in the league based on his physical abilities and his rapid rise to stardom. Even during his brief time with the media at the NFL scouting combine, Gholston gave the impression that he's still a quiet, humble kid who's looking to develop as best he can. That also might be the best thing about the guy. He's almost guaranteed to be a top-10 pick and he still has no idea how good he can become.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.