That severe beating galvanized, rather than demoralized, the Buckeyes, who recovered to defeat Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan before losing the Citrus Bowl to Alabama in the waning seconds. Ohio State compiled a 9-4 record and finished No. 14 in the Associated Press poll.
"That game put a chip on our shoulders; it was a slap in our faces," George said. "It didn't sit well with us. We showed our character after that and just took it as a loss to a great team."
That blasting by Penn State offered George another chance to climb off the canvas. He'd been down before.
As a youngster, George lived a somewhat nomadic life, moving from Southwest Philadelphia to the Mount Airy section of the city to Abington. Back then, he took hanging out more seriously than his classwork, and his football career hit a dead spot when he broke his shoulder in 10th grade.
He needed direction and discipline, and his mother, Donna George, a flight attendant, and uncle, Derrick McCarthy, a graduate of Fork Union Military Academy, decided the strict atmosphere of Fork Union either would make or
"I didn't want to go, and it was tough when I got there, especially taking orders from guys younger than me," George remembered. "But I had to learn about work ethic and develop better study habits. I had to become somebody. If I hadn't gone there, who knows where I'd be. I wouldn't be here today. That's for sure."
So here he is: a proud co-captain with quarterback Bobby Hoying of 12th- ranked Ohio State's seasoned offense. George is coming off a sensational junior season in which he ran for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns and became the first Buckeyes running back to surpass 200 yards rushing in two games in the same season. And he's ready to entertain about 35 members of his family and friends in today's 13th Kickoff Classic against No. 22 Boston College at Giants Stadium (Channel 6, 2 p.m.).
George played behind Robert Smith as a freshman and Raymont Harris as a sophomore. Both became high NFL draft choices. He was relatively unknown when he entered Ohio State. He had grown up dreaming of attending Penn State, but Ohio State and Marshall were his lone suitors, even though he ran for 2,572 yards and 37 TDs in two years at Fork Union.
"You've got to see and meet someone like Eddie George to really appreciate him," Buckeyes coach John Cooper said. "He wasn't heavily recruited, yet here's a player you love to have on your team because no one works harder and, as you can see, he's a physical specimen. His work ethic is amazing. During the summer, the players had a choice of running at either 12:30 or 6 o'clock. There were days when Eddie ran at both times."
At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, George doesn't appear to be the prototype
college tailback, the kind with fleet feet and darting moves. He performs more like a punishing fullback, gobbling up yards between the tackles. And he's a workhorse who carried the ball 24 or more times in seven games last year.
"It doesn't bother me when people say I'm a between-the-tackles runner,
because I think I've shown I can run outside as well," said George, who has a neatly shaved head and a pleasant, low-key disposition. "It's a matter of getting the opportunity to run outside. But it really doesn't matter to me where I run, as long as they give me the ball."
George sees enormous promise in the Buckeyes' offense, and rightfully so. Although two stars from last year, receiver Joey Galloway and mammoth offensive tackle Korey Stringer, went in the first round of the NFL draft, Ohio State returns seven starters on offense. Hoying, a terrific athlete, has the ability to be the Big Ten's leading quarterback. And Stringer's replacement is Orlando Pace, a 6-6, 330-pound sophomore who has been touted as the Buckeyes' best offensive lineman since John Hicks.
"We have a chance to be outstanding," George said. "As long as we don't hurt ourselves with mistakes, we'll be fine."