From left, Cole Fickert, Michael Bennett, Nick Ruschmann, Brandon Beam, and Austin Bucher have been friends since childhood in Centerville. They are roommates at Ohio State.
Michael Bennett celebrates a fumble recovery against San Diego State last season. The senior defensive lineman could be drafted in the first round next spring if he can stay healthy. THE BLADE
COLUMBUS — If Michael Bennett were to ever become lost in the outsized hype surrounding his final year at Ohio State, a reality check awaits at home.
Most college athletes room exclusively with other athletes. Bennett shares an off-campus apartment with four nonathlete “weirdos” — his affectionate label for the rollicking cast of childhood friends that allows an escape from football. To his buddies from Centerville, the biggest, baddest member of Ohio State’s feared line is just big.
“Those guys are going to treat me just like they treated me in high school,” Bennett said.
A typical night for the crew might be spent on the couch watching an indie comedy on Netflix — Wedding Crashers is a mainstream weakness — or, as of last week, updating the new house Twitter account. The buddies call it Bennett Besties, a playful riff on the popular Craft’s Roomies handle, except a “little more out there,” roommate Brandon Beam said.
For instance, instead of Taco Tuesdays at former Buckeyes basketball star Aaron Craft’s house, there will be Tinder Tuesdays.
“Two of our roommates are single, so we were going to get on Tinder [a dating app] and Mike and I would pick dates for them,” Beam said. “Then we would go with them to make it that much more awkward. ... There really is never a dull moment here.”
For Bennett, it is welcome comic relief from his gigs as a student — he is an OSU scholar-athlete — and preseason All-American defensive lineman.
The 6-foot-2, 298-pound senior is expected to be a steadying interior presence on Ohio State’s most loaded unit. Coach Urban Meyer compared the Buckeyes’ defensive line to his front four at Florida in 2006, which ravaged OSU in the national title game. That Gators line had two first-round picks: ends Derrick Harvey and Jarvis Moss. This Buckeyes starting front could, if mock drafts are to be believed, eventually have three: Bennett, sophomore Joey Bosa, and junior Noah Spence.
“If they all perform and stay healthy, this one could be at that level," Meyer said.
Bennett’s ascent is perhaps the least probable as the the only nonfive-star recruit among the Buckeyes’ four returning line starters. (“I’m bringing the team down,” the former four-star prospect cracked.) After an injury-shortened sophomore season, Bennett had seven sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss as a junior last year.
Yet few share his resolve. Bennett’s cheer away from the field gives way to an unyielding drive on it, a trait the likely captain attributes to his parents, Mike and Connie, both graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Bennett recalls being grounded all of seventh and eighth grade. The reason? “I got B-pluses on my report cards,” he said. “It was always grades first.”
“And if I wanted to go to a party in high school, they’d ask me, ‘What’s the address? Who are the parents? Who’s the kid? What’s his number?’” Bennett said with a laugh. “I got to a point where if I wanted to go to a party, I didn’t even bother because I just didn’t want to answer all of the questions.”
Bennett’s parents let him loose in college, but their lessons of discipline and not settling live on. That includes in practice, where the quarterback-hungry Bennett knows one speed.
Star quarterback Braxton Miller said, “I don’t like Mike,” citing the tackle’s blind spot for his no-contact black jersey.
“That’s the truth, I hate the black jerseys,” Bennett said. “If I go to the NFL, I’ll have to get over that and actually respect them there. But if I’m getting to the quarterback in practice now, you're going to know that I got to the quarterback. If he wants to try to run I’m going to put him on the ground. Quarterbacks are entitled too much around here, so you've got to let them know.”
He is kidding. Sort of. In truth, he and Miller are good friends and Bennett is among the Buckeyes’ leaders. Thoughtful and witty, Bennett is a favorite with everyone from reporters to teammates to his thousands of followers on Twitter.
A sampling of posts:
■ “I was asked who I wish would follow me on twitter today. I think the better question is who I wish DIDN’T follow me on twitter. MOM.”
■ “I wonder what other DTs are doing right now. I just finished an entire box of cinnamon toast crunch. Hopefully they're not working out.”
■ “Someone just tried to break into my car while I was home alone. Talk about an adrenaline rush.”
Bennett calls himself Mikail Benoit, a Russian/Canadian Twitter alter ego that aligns with the sensibilities of his roommates. Away from the spotlight, Beam, Cole Fickert, Nick Ruschmann, and Austin Bucher provide a nightly reminder there is more to life than football. There is also cracking on your best friends since elementary school.
“I know how much I get to see my teammates, and I can always go out with them and hang out with them,” Bennett said. “But it's good to come home and get a different perspective on college, a different perspective on life. ... I think it helps me stay grounded.”
Beam couldn’t envision the house without Bennett.
“He's there for you whenever you need him to be,” said Beam, who is pursuing a career in sports radio broadcasting. “Yes, he's one of the best D linemen in the country, but he's even better as a person and better as a friend.”