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Buckeye enjoys trip home

Zephyrhills native Ryan Pickett shows teammates best part of living in Florida.

Ryan Pickett loves his mother's cooking as much as he loves to play football _ which can cause problems.

"Sometimes," said Pickett, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive tackle. "I can't help myself and I eat too much."

Wednesday was one of those days, because it was a rare opportunity for the Ohio State junior to invite a few teammates to eat dinner in Zephyrhills with his family.

He said: "I really like my mom's macaroni and cheese. I can't wait to get some of that."

The good news for Ohio State is that Pickett burned plenty of calories last week with workouts and leading bay area tours. He said, "I need a bus to carry all these people."

He also needs tickets for Monday's Outback Bowl when the Buckeyes take on South Carolina. His request list for the game is pushing 60.

"I think the entire town of Zephyrhills is going to be there," he said, chuckling. "But yeah, you know, coming home has been real nice. Reeeal good. I couldn't wait to get back down here in this beautiful weather."

This is not to say Pickett doesn't like living on Ohio State's campus. In fact, he says he loves everything about it _ except the cold. He hates the cold.

And football? Well the football couldn't have worked out much better.

Pickett was a highly recruited defensive lineman in 1997, the year he was named Times All-Suncoast defensive player of the year. But he said he chose Ohio State "because it was like home to me. I just really felt comfortable with the coaching staff."

He said he still does: "They have just done things here to show that they really care."

Just a few weeks ago, for instance, Ohio State coach John Cooper made some recruiting visits in Tampa before meeting with South Carolina coach Lou Holtz for the Outback Bowl signing party at Raymond James Stadium.

Despite the hectic schedule, Cooper made a point to visit with Ryan's parents, Rubin and Mae Pickett _ more than two years after Cooper signed Pickett.

"They're a nice family," Cooper said. "It's always good to keep in touch."

And no, there aren't any more Picketts waiting in the wings. Ryan is the youngest of talented football siblings to come out of Zephyrhills High: P.J., 28, played at Northeast Louisiana and had tryouts in the pros; Booker, 25, played for the University of Miami and had pro tryouts; and Damien, 23, was recruited by several Division I schools, but had to sit out a year because of his grades before going to Mayville State in North Dakota.

In the end, Ryan may end up being the most talented Pickett.

Cooper says All-America status and and being drafted high are within Pickett's range after next season.

"Ryan Pickett has all the tools," Cooper said. "Speed, strength, size and attitude."

Said Buckeye defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta: "Pickett is one of those quick guys who is very slippery, and once he reads the block, he's off on the rear end of the offensive lineman, and boy, then he's right down the line on the ball and making a tackle. And he does it week in and week out. That's Ryan Pickett."

No matter what happens, Pickett said a couple of things are certain: "I will move back to the South because I can't take that cold weather, and I'll try to get home more often to eat some of my mom's cookin'."

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