OSU linebacker lives up to No. 45

by Jeff Sherry

Andy Katzenmoyer doesn’t understand what all the hubbub is about.
Katzenmoyer, an inside linebacker for the Ohio State Buckeyes, thinks of himself as just another player on the second-ranked team in the country. He’s no more important than anyone else, nor is his jersey number: 45.
“It’s not as big of an issue as everyone has made it out to be,” Katzenmoyer said. “It’s just a number.”
But the truth is, he’s not wearing just any number. And he’s not just any football player.
When the Gophers line up against the Buckeyes on Saturday in Columbus, they’ll be facing one of the most impressive true freshmen in the country. Katzenmoyer, 6 feet 4 inches and 250 pounds, has already earned a starting spot on the best defensive team in the Big Ten.
And he’s doing more than starting — he’s leading the Buckeyes in sacks (seven), tackles for a loss (12), and forced fumbles (two).
“You cannot believe that guy’s a freshman,” Gophers coach Jim Wacker said. “To do what he’s done is amazing. He has really played well.”
But in the football-crazed state of Ohio, it’s the white number on his red and silver jersey that really stands out. The number 45 hasn’t been worn since 1975, when Archie Griffin became the only player ever to become a two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy.
Because of his number, and his past, more has been expected of Katzenmoyer this year than any Ohio State freshman in recent history. At 18-years-old, he’s already become a household name in Ohio. Actually, he nearly achieved that status at age 17.
The excitement surrounding Katzenmoyer reached immense proportions during his senior year at Westerville (Ohio) South High School. He committed to Ohio State after his junior year, so Buckeyes fans became increasingly anxious with each honor he received.
Despite being double- and triple-teamed all year, Katzenmoyer finished his senior season with 114 tackles and eight sacks. He made every major All-American team, became the first defensive player ever to win Ohio’s “Mr. Football” award, and was named USA Today’s Defensive Player of the Year.
And while he wasn’t the only top recruit to arrive at Ohio State this fall — the Buckeyes’ recruiting class was rated No. 1 in the country by six of seven national publications — he certainly was the most famous.
Katzenmoyer not only had to learn his way around campus; he had to learn to live as a celebrity.
“On some days it can really get to you,” Katzenmoyer said. “I can’t go out to eat with guys on the team or friends from home without getting asked for an autograph. I feel like the only time I get to relax and just be myself is when I’m alone or with close friends.
“It’s kind of strange. In high school, in Westerville, people knew who I was, but they didn’t make a big deal of it. And here at Ohio State people ask me for autographs in class and stuff like that. It’s strange, but it has its days when it’s good and it has its days when it’s bad.”
Of course, with the popularity came intense pressure and scrutiny, and so far he’s done nothing but deliver. When the team’s back-up inside linebacker became academically ineligible prior to fall practice, Katzenmoyer moved to second on the team’s depth chart. He took advantage of the increased repetitions, and his play spurred Buckeyes coach John Cooper to move returning starter Greg Bellisari to one of the outside spots.
Since then, he has been named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after defeating Purdue 42-14 on Oct. 19. A week before, he had played a critical role in keeping Ohio State unbeaten by stuffing Wisconsin running back Carl McCullough on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Ohio State won, 17-14.
It’s still early, but it appears the player who grew up idolizing former Buckeyes linebackers Pepper Johnson and Chris Spielman may be destined for similar success in the NFL.
“It’s great to be honored in the same sentence as Chris Spielman,” Katzenmoyer said. “So I just hope I can live up to what everybody has billed me as.”
It shouldn’t be a problem, because No. 45 has done a pretty good job so far.