TAMPA, Fla. - Midway through Ryan Brewer's senior year at Troy High School in Ohio, an Ohio State assistant coach came to the school on a recruiting trip. But he wanted to talk only to the team's tight end, not Brewer, the team's star running back.
That was the moment when Brewer, who was named the state's Mr. Football in 1998, knew he wouldn't get a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes.
Instead, he turned his attention to Lou Holtz, who contacted him about the possibility of playing at South Carolina. Brewer signed with the Gamecocks two years ago.
Monday, Brewer will start against the home-state school that hardly recruited him, when South Carolina takes on Ohio State in the Outback Bowl.
"It's been a dream of mine to play against Ohio State ever since the recruiting process," Brewer said. "I think I'm even more fired up for this game than any other."
Brewer is in position to provide the Buckeyes with a strong showing of what might have been. With star running back Derek Watson's suspension for violating team rules, Brewer has been moved to running back, where he feels more natural.
"I've been playing running back my whole life, so being at wideout is a lot harder transition than coming back (to running back) right now," he said.
Brewer has a well-stocked resume to back Holtz's choice to return him to the backfield. As a senior at Troy, Brewer rushed for an Ohio single-season record of 2,864 yards. In his four years on the varsity squad, Brewer ran for a total of 7,656 yards and scored 761 points. He was named the Ohio High School Player of the 1990s by Ohio Prep Magazine.
Although Ohio State never showed much interest, South Carolina, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin did. The bruise from the Buckeyes' snub has faded, but it still lingers for Brewer.
"They didn't show a lot of interest me until my senior year," Brewer said. "They always told me they were going to offer me, but they never did. I went to a lot of Ohio State games and every Ohio State-Michigan game when I was in high school. But they never offered me.
"I don't really hold a grudge, but I can't say I'm too partial to Ohio State," he said with a shrug. "The players, I don't know any of them, I don't hold anything against them. I'm just going out to prove things more to myself. I need to prove to myself that I was good enough to play at Ohio State."
There is no question in the minds of Gamecocks coaches that Brewer has talent.
"Ryan Brewer was a tailback a year ago, and he led the team in yards-per-carry average as a true freshman," offensive coordinator Skip Holtz said, referring to Brewer's 35 carries for 163 yards and a 4.7 yards-per-carry average in 1999. "There are players who are taller than Ryan Brewer, players who are bigger, players who are stronger, but not more productive."
Perhaps Brewer's biggest concern is getting too excited for the New Year's Day bowl. He saw how Watson struggled earlier this season against Tennessee, where he verbally committed before choosing South Carolina. Brewer doesn't want the same to happen in the Outback Bowl.
"I'm kind of nervous that I might get too excited for it and go out there and blow all my energy early," Brewer said.
Still, that thought is only in the back of Brewer's mind. Right now, he is still trying to take in everything - including the fact he will be playing against the Buckeyes.
"We knew (in the last week in November) we would play Ohio State, Michigan or Northwestern. I had a feeling in my heart right then we would play Ohio State," Brewer said. "It's something I've always wanted to do. It's just a dream come true for me. Dreams don't usually come true for me, and this one did."
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