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September 10, 2012

Stoneburner finds redemption with his play

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - When Urban Meyer accepted Ohio State's head coaching position in November 2011, perhaps no player on the Buckeyes' roster figured to benefit more from the two-time national champion's presence than Jake Stoneburner.

A 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end, Stoneburner had far from reached his full potential in his first four years at OSU, tallying 37 receptions, 445 yards, and nine touchdowns. Having coached a John Mackey Award winner in Aaron Hernandez at Florida in 2009, Meyer figured to use Stoneburner in a similar role, and perhaps help him double some of his career statistics in the process.

But with two months remaining until OSU's first fall camp under Meyer, Stoneburner's status with the team appeared to be in doubt.

According to police reports, on June 2 Stoneburner, OSU offensive lineman Jack Mewhort, and a third man were caught urinating outside of a bar in Shawnee Hills, Ohio. When initially approached by police offers, the three men ran, but were eventually caught and charged with obstruction of justice.

A day later, Meyer suspended Stoneburner and Mewhort indefinitely, before eventually taking them off of scholarship for the remainder of the summer after the two players pled guilty to lesser charges of disorderly conduct. Still allowed to work out with their team during a portion of that time, both players found themselves in the Buckeyes' starting lineup when fall camp opened in August, and earned back their scholarships for the start of OSU's fall semester.

And for that, Stoneburner is grateful.

"How your actions, no matter how big or how little affect the entire team," Stoneburner said when asked what he had learned from the first and only off the field incident of his career. "It's a team thing and I made a mistake and everyone had to pay for it."

Having known Stoneburner since his days as a wide receiver at Dublin Coffman high school, OSU wide receivers coach Zach Smith wasn't surprised to see his fellow Dublin native work his way back into Meyer's good graces.

"I've known Jake since he was way younger than Buckeye Nation knows him being a Dublin guy, so he's always been a hard worker and has always been someone who is going to go hard," Smith said. "Nothing has changed as far as his mentality. He's a kid who is going to give you what he's got."

After spending the final two months of what seemed like the longest offseason of his career wondering about his status with the team, Stoneburner said that what happened in June was the furthest thing from his mind once fall camp began.

"It was business as usual once practice started," Stoneburner said. "It was just back to football and worrying about football."

Then again, the fifth-year senior probably hasn't had much time to think about non-football topics for the past two months. Shortly after fall camp opened up, Meyer announced that Stoneburner had been converted back to the position he played throughout his high school career- wide receiver.

But to call Stoneburner a wide receiver would be just too simple. Although he often starts games lining up in the slot, he also spends time attaching to the offensive line as a tight end and dropping into the backfield as an H-back.

The versatility that Stoneburner has brought to the OSU offense is reminiscent of the multiple ways that Meyer used Hernandez during his time as the Gators' head coach.

"They have me listed as starting wide receiver, but I play tight end, play a little fullback. I play probably a majority of the time at receiver," Stoneburner said. "They just want to use me in different ways. I'm fine with that."

The 6-foot-5 pass catcher admitted that there are some negatives that come along with wearing so many different hats in Meyer's spread offense, but that ultimately the positives outweigh the negatives for him.

"You just have to make sure you know a lot, because I have to know three or four different positions," he said. :Sometimes when I'm tired, I get some mental lapses. Otherwise, besides that, I love it. It gives me the ability to be out there and make some plays."

So far, Stoneburner's looked like a natural in his new role. Through the first two games of his senior season, the Mackey Award watch list member has caught four receptions for 48 yards, but perhaps no play was more meaningful to Stoneburner than the 12-yard reception that he caught against Central Florida on Saturday, which resulted in his lone touchdown so far in 2012.

After the offseason that he's been through, the end zone has never felt so sweet for the Dublin native.

"It's been a while. A tough summer, to finally get out there and score, it's a great feeling," Stoneburner said. "It really feels great."



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