Gamble gives Buckeyes best of both worlds on field

Brian Stensaas

As if playing in front of over 100,000 screaming Ohio State fans in predicted snowy conditions isn’t enough, Minnesota’s football team faces a Heisman Trophy hopeful Saturday.

No, not sensational freshman running back Maurice Clarett, though he’ll be there too.

In charge of heckling the 23rd-ranked Gophers in every aspect is sophomore three-way man Chris Gamble.

“I really enjoy watching that young man compete,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “He never leaves the field; he’s a throwback.”

Mason said Tuesday that Gamble should be considered for the Heisman Trophy for his play on both sides of the ball.

Heading into the Cincinnati game on Sept. 21, coach Jim Tressel opted to try Gamble out in the defensive secondary, and the kid from Sunrise, Fla., showed promise.

In the 23-19 win over the Bearcats, Gamble caught three passes on offense and intercepted a pass on defense, a foreshadowing of things to come.

Last Saturday in Columbus, it was Gamble stealing the show and guiding the sixth-ranked Buckeyes to victory over Penn State. He intercepted his team-leading third pass of the season and returned it 40 yards for Ohio State’s only touchdown in the 13-7 win.

Gamble started at both flanker and cornerback in the game, becoming the first Ohio State player in 40 years to be a starter on both sides of the ball. He also saw time on special teams.

“Football is fundamental; I just go out there and play,” the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Gamble said. “Whatever the coaches want me to do, I’ll do it. I just want to have fun out on the football field.”

Tressel has long used the strategy of having receivers act as defensive backs and vice versa in spring ball and in the preseason.

A born receiver, Gamble played in 11 games last season, catching five passes for 72 yards. Through the Buckeyes’ third game of this season, Gamble was used sparingly at wideout, hauling in nine catches for 106 yards.

But when the Buckeyes lost cornerback Richard McNutt for the season with an ankle injury, Tressel began splitting Gamble’s practice time between offense and defense.

The end result has been a double trouble machine driving opposing coaches batty. But Tressel isn’t too sure how much longer this can continue. Gamble saw action in 95 plays last weekend and cramped up toward the end of the game.

“I’m not sure a young man can play 95 plays week in and week out,” Tressel said. “But Chris is one of those special kids. We might have to pick and choose how to maximize his talent.”

Gamble’s set-up abilities have helped the Buckeyes (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten) rank in the top three in the Big Ten among scoring offense. His play in the secondary has helped the team to second in the league defensively. Minnesota (7-1, 3-1) is the top defensive team.

“If you’re a good athlete and can play on both sides of the ball, you have to try it out and see what the coaches say,” Gamble said. “I want to help the team out and give 100 percent. If I get an interception, I want to be right back out there and try to catch a touchdown.”

That is, if intercepting the ball doesn’t immediately lead to one first.