COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As a true freshman, the production fell far short of the hype.
As a projected starter as a sophomore, the first-team reps vanished quickly and the excitement continued to fade.
But if the plan for building a successful middle linebacker at Ohio State was always designed to get Curtis Grant to tap into his enormous potential and become a force as a junior, maybe his development has always been right on schedule. And if the No. 4 Buckeyes are ever going to be rewarded for sticking with him despite some rough patches along the way, there's no doubt that this is the week that will determine it with Wisconsin's ground-chewing rushing attack matching up with a unit that will feature Grant smack-dab in the center of it all on Saturday night at the Horseshoe.
"I think he’s kind of built for it," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He’s earned it, he’s worked for it and we have confidence in him.
"He’s a tackle-to-tackle middle linebacker, and this is without question the defining moment of his career. He’s facing one of the best running teams in the country, as good of [running] backs as he’ll face all year and he’s a starting middle linebacker at Ohio State. It doesn’t get much bigger than this."
Grant hasn't backed down from any challenge issued his way heading into a season Ohio State hasn't been shy about labeling make-or-break for the former decorated recruit, and in some ways it may all boil down to how he handles Wisconsin rushers Melvin Gordon and James White and their stout blockers up front.
Through four games, Grant has shown off the athleticism that has always made him a tantalizing prospect for the Buckeyes, but now he appears to have added the kind of consistent effort and ability to diagnose plays that seemed to escaped him early in his career. He's fourth on the team in tackles with 18 despite the Buckeyes relying heavily on nickel and dime packages that take him off the field, but against a team that plans to line up in power formations and focus on the ground attack, Grant could see more snaps against the Badgers than he's played in a single game since high school.
"We all have to take our games to a different level," Grant said. "Anybody who gets in that game has to maximize their talent and go out and play.
"We’re in the Big Ten now, and nothing is guaranteed, nothing is promised."
Grant learned that right away when his recruiting ranking didn't assure him a spot in the lineup as a freshman. It was reiterated a year later as a starting job slipped away.
Now he's got a chance to put those lessons to good use, right in the middle of the biggest stage Grant has been on with the Buckeyes.