|Ohio State's Aaron Craft, middle, fights for the loose ball in the Buckeyes 78-75 win over Iowa State in the men's NCAA basketball tournament on Sunday in Dayton. (AP Photo)|
Once upon a time, Ohio State basketball star Aaron Craft was known more for being a football player than a hoopster.
Sure, he was stellar since the first time he stepped on to the hardwood as a freshman at Liberty-Benton High School (outside of Findlay), leading the Eagles to a Div. III state runners-up finish in his freshman season (2006-07). He went on to lead L-B to an 88-5 record during his four-year career, and was selected as the Div. III Player of the Year as a senior in 2010.
However, being that football is more of a religion in the state of Ohio than it is a sport, Craft's prowess on the gridiron was what first made him a star.
As a freshman in 2006, Craft announced his presence with authority — as a starting quarterback and safety — leading the Eagles to the Div. V state semifinals. During that playoff run, Craft's squad defeated local teams, Tinora and Ayersville, by an average of four touchdowns per win.
During his sophomore campaign in 2007, Craft powered L-B to the regional finals after finishing the regular season at 10-0. After defeating Archbold and Tinora, the Craft-led Eagles fell to local power Patrick Henry. Although his team was unable to reach the state semis that season, it didn't prevent him from being named a Div. V first team all-Ohio selection as a quarterback.
As a junior in 2009, Craft had his finest season as a football player, leading Liberty-Benton to the state championship game, as well as being named the Div. V Player of the Year. Craft was the catalyst for a defense which recorded 10 shutouts that season, and allowed just 3.8 points per game for the year (15 games).
His junior season, however, would be his final one as a football player, as he sat out his senior year to concentrate on basketball full-time. His overall record as a starter on the football team (in three seasons) was 38-4. He accounted for close to 12,000 yards of offense, including nearly 7,000 in the air and 5,000 on the ground.
But those days seem like ancient history now, being that Craft is considered one of the finest basketball players in the collegiate ranks.
On Sunday, in the Buckeyes' third round contest of the NCAA tournament against Iowa State, Craft nailed the game-winning three-point shot to advance Ohio State to the Sweet 16. His inspiring play, guts and determination, though, can be traced back to his days on the gridiron in northwest Ohio.
Simply said, he plays the game of basketball like a football player.
According to Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, those traits Craft possesses has earned him an open invitation to play for the Buckeyes whenever he wants to suit up.
"Aaron Craft is playing football next year," Meyer said of Craft, during a recent banquet in Toledo. "(OSU basketball coach) Thad (Matta) doesn’t know yet. I think (OSU quarterback) Braxton (Miller) is going to sit, and I’m going to put Aaron right behind center."
Meyer reiterated those thoughts last week during spring practice.
"I love him," Meyer said. "He could play safety, linebacker, H-back or take snaps. So I’m going to work with him."
Meyer said those statements with tongue in cheek, but the reality is, Craft has the credentials and abilities to make that happen.
"Aaron has that football mentality at times and it definitely gives him a different view," Matta said of his point guard. "Guys I recruited who played high school football understand things a little bit better than most.
"The fact he’s strong, he’s quick, he’s smart definitely makes him a heck of a player."
Just think, Craft could do what he did in high school — dominate for three years, then concentrate on one sport his final season.
But this time it could be football he chooses, not hoops.
What a story that would be, huh?