Sunday, September 02, 2001

Miami freshman enters school of hard knocks




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        ANN ARBOR, Mich. — There was a grass stain on his right knee and another on his right shoulder. There were two horizontal cuts near the bridge of his nose and a long vertical scrape running along his right shin.

        Ben Roethlisberger had a powerful pounding in his skull and an assortment of abrasions that could have caused a commando to call in sick. Two years since anyone was allowed to tackle him, Miami University's celebrity quarterback returned to competitive football Saturday and emerged as a contusion with shoulder pads.

        “I've got a pretty bad headache, my nose hurts pretty good and my leg hurts,” Roethlisberger said, taking inventory of his injuries. “My heart hurts the most, but
I'll get over that.”

        In the achy aftermath of Saturday's 31-13 loss to Michigan, Miami's pain was mitigated by its possibilities. The RedHawks could look back and see two touchdowns that were nullified by penalties and a Michigan touchdown that might easily have been called a fumble.

        Or they could look ahead and see several more years of Ben Roethlisberger.

        The redshirt freshman, who played his last full-contact game as a senior at Findlay High School, made his college debut Saturday before 109,676 screaming zealots and behaved as if he were throwing passes at a backyard tire swing.

        Michigan coach Lloyd Carr advised sportswriters last week that they should learn to spell Roethlisberger's name. Pretty soon, it will be time for adjective practice.

        It had been seven years since Miami last started a freshman quarterback and it might be seven decades before the RedHawks get another one with so much promise. Roethlisberger, who spurned Ohio State to study in Oxford, completed 18 of 35 passes Saturday for 193 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions, forcing passes the way freshmen will.

        “That was my old high school ways,” he said. “And I've got to get away from that. It's a matter of getting out of bad habits.”

Instincts

        Trailing, 10-6, late in the second quarter, Roethlisberger moved Miami within 39 yards of a go-ahead touchdown and then reverted to his adolescent instincts. With Michigan arms around him both high and low, Roethlisberger tried to find receiver Jason Branch downfield and was instead intercepted by Michigan cornerback Brandon Williams.

        It was not a case of failing to see the defender, Roethlisberger said, but of not having enough arm to reach the receiver. It is doubtful, however, that Brett Favre would have had enough arm with two weighty Wolverines hanging on him.

Coach speak

        “Ben's going to be real hard on himself,” Miami coach Terry Hoeppner said. “I just told him in the locker room, "Don't take all the blame.' He had his moments when he was pretty good, had some moments when he wasn't so good ... (But) There's no way you can get a quarterback ready to play in college football except to play in college football.”

               Now that his baptism of bruises is finished, Ben Roethlisberger can move on to better things. Provided, of course, that he's able to move this morning.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at www.enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

       



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