Ohio State redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber came to Columbus after the Buckeyes won the 2014 national championship. Former OSU running back, and current member of the Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott emerged as a star, and it was clear that the four-star recruit, Weber, was going to have to wait to become the featured back in coach Urban Meyer’s offense.
Just one year later, Weber is quietly showing his potential as OSU’s next great running back.
Originally committed to Michigan, then nearly decommitting from Meyer and OSU after former running backs coach Stan Drayton left for the Chicago Bears days after National Signing Day, Weber elected to hang tough and try to win the job in 2016.
Weber progressed over the spring and summer. Redshirt senior center Pat Elflein and redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett talked at length at Big Ten Media Days in July about Weber’s maturity compared with a year ago. The two often worked out with Weber over the summer and noticed a new determination in the redshirt freshman.
“(A year) makes a big difference. I lost a lot of weight and I got a lot stronger, faster and smarter,” Weber said after his first game as a starter against Bowling Green. “(Elliott) made sure he looked out for me. He saw potential in me and hopefully I make a lot of good plays for the team this year.”
Last Saturday against Oklahoma, in Weber’s first true road game, he displayed the maturity and the strength coaches and players were raving about.
Weber had his largest load of work against the Sooners, carrying the ball 18 times for 123 yards — good for an average of 6.8 yards-per-carry. Through three games now, Weber has 351 rushing yards and one touchdown. He ranks 13th in the NCAA in rushing yards and first in the Big Ten.
Weber said after the Oklahoma game that he feels comfortable and confident on the field.
“I actually learned a lot today … It was kind of fast. It was faster than what I expected,” he said. “It was faster than Bowling Green, faster than Tulsa. I’m pretty used to it. It’s just football at the end of the day.”
Redshirting in 2015 after suffering a torn meniscus before the season began, Weber stood on the sidelines taking in the reality of his situation. But he decided to make the most of it and learn from Elliott every chance he could.
When Elliott was on the sidelines, Weber was right there learning from the would-be No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Elliott played in a substantial amount of road and neutral-site games in his career at OSU — Michigan State, Michigan, Alabama and Oregon, just to name a few. So when it was Weber’s turn to produce in a hostile, boisterous environment like Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, Weber used a few mental notes he took from Elliott.
“Just sitting on the bench next to Zeke and him going back to the sideline saying this and that, I kind of learned that and kept it in my back pocket for when I started playing,” Weber said. “And now it’s working for me.”
By comparison, Elliott didn’t rush for 100 yards in a game until his fourth career start. The former Buckeye ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns in his first three starts.
Weber still has much to accomplish to be featured in conversation with the likes of Elliott, Eddie George, Archie Griffin and Carlos Hyde, but the redshirt freshman is making his statement early when he has the opportunity. With H-back Curtis Samuel as another player getting double-digit carries per game, Weber is bolstering OSU’s offense heading into Big Ten play.