COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A complete escape from his predecessor might not be possible.
The lobby at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center prominently features an Ezekiel Elliott jersey. Elliott's image adorns a banner honoring recent Ohio State running backs that hangs over an end zone at the practice field. And Elliott still remains the prime example his position coach uses to make a point.
But posting just the third 1,000-yard season by a freshman tailback in school history has a way of somewhat minimizing the shadow that loomed over Mike Weber even during his breakout, debut campaign. The mentions of how Elliott used to do the job come less frequently, the praise for Weber’s own work ethic are on the rise -- and he can go almost a full 10 minutes of a news conference without hearing a single comparison to his former teammate.
“Until that kind of brought it back up, I actually haven’t heard his name in a minute,” Weber said with a laugh. “So, yeah, I mean, it’s pretty cool. But there’s a lot more that I have to do.
“I’m just still working hard at it because I feel like I haven’t showed everything that I’m supposed to show.”
Nobody knows better than Weber just how much goes into filling the role Urban Meyer calls one of the “Cadillac positions” of college football, both because of his year as an understudy to the do-it-all Elliott and now a full season as the starter at running back for Ohio State.
But rather than point to the 1,096 rushing yards and nine touchdowns he posted a year ago as evidence that he has already made his own name for the Buckeyes, instead he points to improvements that must be made as a blocker, improving his hands as a receiver out of the backfield and enhancing his knowledge of the playbook. More than just accumulating eye-popping numbers, that’s how Elliott built his reputation inside the program at Ohio State -- although, statistically, Weber is off to a better start than his old mentor.
“Oh yeah, he was tired of all the comparisons,” running backs coach Tony Alford said. “We’re beyond that point. Mike Weber is Mike Weber. Now, do we have a guy who showed how to grind and how to do it right? We sure do, and it’s Zeke. But do we want him to be Zeke? No, don’t be Zeke. Do things like Zeke? Absolutely.
“Man, here’s the deal. If you don’t want to hear about him anymore, I know a surefire way to stop it: Outdo him.”
That, of course, is a tall order for Weber. After some initial growing pains following his high-profile recruitment and a redshirt season, Weber was still in some ways learning on the fly last season. But he has turned heads during spring camp with his commitment in every phase of his development.
Alford ideally wants to sit in the back of the meeting room and let the soft-spoken Weber teach his teammates, and the young running back's expanding knowledge of the playbook is making that more realistic with each passing day. His work ethic on the field, leading the tailbacks through each individual drill, has solidified his spot even more on top of the depth chart despite increased competition from Demario McCall and early enrollee J.K. Dobbins. And even during practice on Tuesday morning, Meyer felt compelled to point out how far Weber has come with the Buckeyes.
"Mike Weber is separating himself," Meyer said. "He's having an exceptional spring, and it's about where he should be. Ironically, I was just talking to him about this. He’s 100 percent [better than] the player he was last year. I mean, in everything, he’s doing a very good job."
Without doing every job required at the position, earning a mention alongside Elliott would be a nonstarter in the first place.
But now, Weber appears to be getting to a level where it’s no longer even necessary at all.
“Great executing on blocking, hitting on the big runs, blocking well, catching the ball well, getting big numbers -- that’s when I feel like all that other stuff will come with it,” Weber said. “Like, being more on a national stage, being the top guy, being one of the top backs in the country and stuff like that.
“I feel like my name rang a little bit last year, and I want it to be out there this year.”
Ideally with no other famous names attached to Weber’s.