Much has been made about quarterback Braxton Miller's transformation under coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but another group of Buckeyes is enjoying an extreme makeover. After underachieving for years, Ohio State's offense line is now a force in the Big Ten, creating plenty of room for Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and others to operate. Senior left tackle Jack Mewhort has witnessed the evolution of the line. He has started at three different positions -- left guard, right guard and now left tackle -- and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012. Elected a team captain before this season, Mewhort has received plenty of praise from Meyer, who called the Toledo, Ohio, native "one of the best leaders I've ever been around."
Mewhort and the third-ranked Buckeyes continue their push for a national title Saturday at Illinois. ESPN.com caught up with Mewhort earlier this week.
How have you evolved as a leader during your career?
Jack Mewhort: I've had the good fortune of seeing a lot of leaders come through here and who did a great job at Ohio State, guys like Cam Heyward, Jake Ballard, Jimmy Cordle, the list goes on. I did a good job when I was younger observing and making sure I picked up things from those guys that if I was ever in a position to be a leader, I could apply. Somehow, I got myself in a position where people think I'm a leader, so I can apply those things now. I was very lucky.
What was the moment like when you found out you would be a captain?
JM: It was a big honor. You're happy for a second, and then you think about the responsibility that goes with it. I just got real serious about it. Being a captain at Ohio State is a pretty prestigious thing. I don't want to fail my team or the coaching staff, so I've tried to be a good example and do things the right way, set the tone for this team and make sure guys are doing things right.
When did you realize you had to take things up a notch from a maturity standpoint?
JM: In 2011, [Mike] Brewster and Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, it was their last year, and I got a lot of good playing experience and general life experience. When they left, Corey [Linsley] and Andrew [Norwell] and Marcus Hall all realized at the same time that we were the oldest guys in the O-line room, and we were going to be in position to lead the team. There was a moment a few years ago where I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to be a guy around here now."
You guys are talked about as being the strongest unit on the team. When did that come to fruition that the line was taking it to another level after not living up to expectations earlier?
JM: When Coach Meyer got here, there was a chip on our shoulders. He came in and he made no secret that he was not impressed with the offensive line at Ohio State the last few years, especially the 2011 team, calling it the worst O-line he's seen play in a long time. We really took that to heart and believed we had a special opportunity in front of us with Coach Meyer and his staff coming in. We had a bowl ban last year, but the reason you come to Ohio State is to be in the discussion we're in right now. We knew if we wanted to leave a legacy at Ohio State, we were going to have to start moving forward. We all took that to heart, worked really hard on our minds and our bodies and started heading in the right direction together. The chemistry we've shown together on the field, it's been a lot of fun, a great ride.
How much of it was physical and how much was mental for you guys as a group?
JM: Mentally, it wasn't as hard as it was physically, just because we were all friends. We hadn't all been playing at the same time together, but we all knew each other. That wasn't a big problem because there was a mutual respect. But physically, it was a huge part of it. We credit Coach Mickey Marotti for that. He came in and changed our bodies for the better. We were not physically impressive when they got here, so they did a great job of motivating us in the right way and helping us eat right and establish a mindset to get mentally and physically tougher.
Everyone sees you as big guys, but what specifically did you have to change physically to meet the coaches' expectations?
JM: We just didn't have the right template maybe before. Not to take anything away from the program that Coach [Jim] Tressel ran, because obviously he was a winner, but when Coach Marotti came in, he just took it up another notch. I don't know the exact numbers, but as an offensive line, we lost hundreds of pounds of fat and gained a lot of muscle at the same time. It was just a matter putting applicable strength on our bodies that we could use our flexibility. Speed to power is a big thing around here. We're well-oiled machines now. It's always a work in progress when you're an O-lineman, eating right and stuff like that. But they definitely helped us.
And how have those changes contributed to your success?
JM: It shows every week on the field. [Offensive coordinator Tom Herman] always says we made a commitment to our tempo on Day 1, and that's something we pride ourselves on, wearing defenses out and being in the no-huddle and getting right back on the ball after each play. Some O-linemen can't really handle the pace or do it all the time. We really pride ourselves on being that team. We love running no-huddle, we love getting right back on the ball, because there's a certain point where you can look across the ball and see a D-lineman tap out. As an offensive lineman, there's no better feeling than that.
What has been the one thing that has surprised you most about playing in this offense versus your perception of it when Coach Meyer came in?
JM: People talk about Coach Meyer and his offense and say it's the spread, we're not really blocking anybody, we're reading guys. We've showed in the last couple years that he likes to run the ball between the tackles and run power and inside zone as much as anybody. We obviously have our schemes, we know how to get the ball on the edge and Braxton's throwing the ball really well right now. But at the end of the day, Coach Meyer says we're a power running team, and that's been evident the last couple years here.
You guys are clearly in the national championship mix. What do you need to do to convince people that you're a team that should be in one of those top two spots?
JM: We just need to handle our business and do it convincingly, just to show people we are legit and we mean business. Obviously, it's a big discussion that we're in, and we're not ignorant. We know what's going on nationally, but you've got to take it day by day and focus on right now beating Illinois. When you start looking too far ahead, that's when you let the little things slip, and all of a sudden you're looking back and saying, "What could I have done differently?" If we just keep playing the way we've been playing and get better every day, we'll be all right and everything will work itself out at the end.
Do you look at what Florida State and Alabama and Baylor and Stanford have done, and look at their résumés and where you stack up with them?
JM: I don't do a lot of comparisons. Obviously, all those teams are great. We have a lot of respect for all of them. As far as résumés go, there's a lot of talk about how our schedule's weak or whatever, but we've beat every team lined up in front of us. We have a great winning streak, and that's something we want to continue. At the end of the day, if we win all our games, we're hopefully where we want to be. If we're not, winning a lot of games is good, too.
You guys would be guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl if you don't make the title game. How do you view that possibility?
JM: I don't really know how our attitude would be toward that. I don't really want to talk about that just because I don't want to look ahead. But the Rose Bowl is a great bowl game. I was in it in 2009. It would be an honor to play in a BCS bowl, especially the Rose Bowl. It's the 100th anniversary also, so that's a very prestigious place. There's nothing wrong with playing in the Rose Bowl when you're an Ohio State Buckeye.
What would you like your legacy to be at Ohio State?
JM: Personally, I want people to remember me as a good teammate, as a guy who did things the right way. I was serious about my business. I want to be remembered as a good teammate and a good leader. This winning streak we’re on now, I’m glad to be a part of that, and when people look back at the 2012, 2013 Buckeyes, when it’s all said and done, and if we do the things we want to do, it’s going to be an honor just to be in the conversation with some of these guys who are around here.