COLUMBUS — Who knew that picking up where Ezekiel Elliott left off wouldn’t be the toughest weight for Mike Weber to lift?
Weber was the heir apparent to Elliott, the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys, from the day he arrived at OSU in August of 2015.
A torn meniscus in preseason training camp forced Ohio State to redshirt him last fall. If not for that injury, he might have been Elliott’s backup last season.
Now that he has gotten onto the field, he has probably exceeded the already high expectations that he would be a worthy successor to Elliott, who climbed to No. 2 behind Archie Griffin on OSU’s career rushing list in only two seasons as a starter.
Weber, from Detroit Cass Tech High School, has rushed for 495 yards in four games, with three games of more than 100 yards. He is averaging 7.3 yards a carry and has scored two touchdowns.
After the most recent of his scores, on a 46-yard run against Rutgers last Saturday, he thought he and center Pat Elflein had choreographed a celebration where he would pick up the 6-3, 300-pound Elflein.
But it didn’t work out quite that way when Elflein stood flat-footed and Weber, who is 5-10 and 212 pounds, couldn’t move him.
“He came to me one day and said, ‘Since we (the offensive line) are always the guys picking up the running backs, how about you picking me up?’ ” Weber said. “I said, ‘If that’s what you want, you have to at least jump.’ I guess he forgot. He kind of threw me under the bus on that one.”
As far as running styles go, Weber might be a little more like Carlos Hyde than Elliott.
His role models go back farther than that, though. When he was growing up in Detroit, his dad showed him highlights of Chicago Bears legend Walter Payton and Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders, with the emphasis on Payton.
“I was more into that kind of running back than the current running backs. I like being a punisher. I like running over people Payton did a good job of that,” Weber said.
OSU coach Urban Meyer said, “He’s a banger. He’s a thumper and a plus yardage guy most of the time.”
Weber also has a strong connection of a slightly different kind with Sanders.
“I’m actually cool with Barry Sanders. I played golf with him a couple of times,” Weber said. “I talk to him often, almost after every game. He’s a really good guy.
“When I was little I played in a Little All-American game and I met him. I know a lot of people who know him,” he said. “We don’t really talk about football, just regular stuff.”
Weber originally verbally committed to Michigan, but when it became apparent Brady Hoke was going to be fired as the Wolverines coach he switched his commitment to Ohio State.
In the month before national signing day, Jim Harbaugh came close to flipping Weber back to Michigan. But, at least partially, late night phone conversations between Urban Meyer, OSU running backs coach Stan Drayton and Weber kept him committed to Ohio State.
But when Drayton left Ohio State to take a job with the Chicago Bears a day after Weber signed, there were a few tense days in the relationship, including Weber tweeting “I’m hurt as hell. I ain’t going to lie.”
Both Meyer and Weber said that is behind them now. What is ahead, barring injury, is at least two years of climbing up the OSU career rushing list for Weber.