Building a leader

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maybe Jack Mewhort wasn't born a leader.

The left tackle was a captain in high school, but he is the first to admit that role didn't come with anywhere near the responsibilities of doing the same thing at Ohio State.

Mewhort also was being groomed for a prominent position heading into his junior season a year ago, though an offseason incident left him briefly without a scholarship and in some ways needing to start all over again and prove himself trustworthy to his teammates and coaches.

But whether it's a relative lack of experience, a previous bad decision or Mewhort's own admission that he hasn't always thought of himself as a leader, none of those things is an issue for the Buckeyes. In the age-old debate about leaders being born or built, Ohio State believes in the latter -- and it appears to have constructed one in Mewhort.

"There's a quote around here that leaders aren't born, they're made," Mewhort said. "I'm a pretty observant guy, and I spent a lot of time in my younger years around here watching the older guys and paying attention to guys in leadership positions, and I'm trying to take what I've seen from good leaders and apply that now. I'm just doing the best I can so this staff and the younger guys on the team can depend on me, and that's where I am right now.

"I'm working every day towards that."

If the project isn't done yet, the work Mewhort already has done still seems to be having quite an impact for the Buckeyes.

Mewhort might not be the most vocal player on the roster. He doesn't play the most glamorous position on the field, and he had that well-documented misdemeanor arrest last summer.

But one part of the leadership process is getting more comfortable speaking up, and when Mewhort does open his mouth, the words carry more weight. Without his physical blocks and nasty attitude at left tackle, Ohio State's spread offense and power rushing attack likely wouldn't have been nearly as explosive last season. And even his brush with the law came with a silver lining, giving Mewhort a new perspective and appreciation for his situation with the Buckeyes and giving his teammates a reminder of what can happen to anybody who steps out of line.

It all has helped shaped Mewhort into a guy Meyer and the coaching staff clearly are counting on to set the tone for a team coming off an unbeaten season and with championship aspirations. And while the election for captains is down the road, Mewhort is certainly polling well in the primaries.

"He's come a long way," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. "He's a grown man, he's a hard worker, he loves football. He's almost too hard on himself sometimes, and we have to [tell him], 'Just take it easy, Jack. You're going to be fine.' He wants to be a perfectionist, and you can't be perfect on the O-line.

"His leadership is more by example. I mean, he is a real pro at being in a meeting, paying attention, taking notes, asking questions, studying, lifting weights, doing extra, being on time -- just doing things the right way. And he plays well, so everyone says, 'I want to be like that guy.' Well, how do I be like that guy? Just watch him, follow him, do what he does."

Mewhort used to be in that same position, following the lead of respected veterans like Cameron Heyward or Austin Spitler, Zach Boren or John Simon.

He obviously wasn't always ready to handle their jobs at the forefront for the Buckeyes. But Mewhort has made himself into a leading candidate now.

"It's being a well-rounded guy and a guy with discipline, and I'm working hard to be that guy," Mewhort said. "It entails a lot of different things that I'm trying to work for.

"Obviously I want to be a guy that coach [Urban] Meyer can depend on and that guys can look to. I'm just working every day to be a leader and be a dependable guy."