Fickell Sets Tone with Early Workout
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The 60 degree temperatures and sunny skies might make Ohio State’s trip to Florida look like a vacation, but that is far from the early-morning message Luke Fickell sent to his team Wednesday.
With the temperatures still in the 40’s and many players still digesting their first real home-cooked meal in months, the Buckeyes hit the practice field at the University of North Florida.
“We thought we had to loosen up, warm up,” Fickell said after Ohio State’s first practice in Jacksonville.
Photo by Dan Harker
“On bowl trips we’ve usually slept in until nine o’clock and practiced about one o’clock, at times. (This was) a little bit different change. Even back home we had team meetings at 10 o’clock. We just wanted to make sure we got them up and set the tone a little bit.”
There isn’t too much attention being paid to the Buckeyes this bowl season, not after a 6-6 season, which ended with three-straight losses, including a 40-34 defeat at Michigan.
After six straight trips to the BCS, the Buckeyes are playing in the Gator Bowl against another 6-6 team, but that team happens to be the same one that knocked them off in the 2006 BCS National Championship game.
“I think that’s the exciting thing about this,” Fickell said.
“Nobody really remembers a lot of time if it was the Outback or the Sugar. It’s really the matchups.”
Ohio State will face a team from the SEC in the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons. They lost back-to-back BCS title games to Florida and then LSU, but finally snapped the school’s winless streak against the SEC by defeating Arkansas in last year’s Sugar Bowl.
The matchup between Ohio State and Florida is certainly an intriguing one, if only for what surrounds the game. The Buckeyes and Gators are two of the premier teams in college football from a historical perspective and have accounted for three national titles in the last 10 seasons.
The hiring of former Florida coach Urban Meyer in Columbus only adds further intrigue to a game that otherwise might go unnoticed during bowl season.
“That’s what our guys are excited about and that’s what will be remembered,” Fickell said about the matchup.
“Whether they’re talking about it next year or in 10 years, it will be about the fact it was Ohio State and Florida.”
The game, which will be played on Jan. 2, might draw a lot more attention if Meyer were going to be in town, but Fickell said Wednesday his future boss will not be on hand in Jacksonville.
Meyer was announced as the 24th head coach in Ohio State history back on Nov. 28 and he immediately made the decision to retain Fickell, who will serve as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator starting next season.
Fickell’s job right now is to coach Ohio State in the bowl game. It doesn’t hurt that the game is being played in one of the school’s ripest recruiting areas outside the state of Ohio.
“Sometimes our second best recruiting is the state of Florida,” Fickell said.
“We probably have 12 to 15 guys on the roster from the state of Florida. Outside of our 250 mile radius, that’s probably the next largest area.”
Despite the records, there will still be pressure on the Buckeyes to avoid their first losing season since 1988. That’s nothing new for Fickell after everything he went through as the team’s interim head coach this season.
“When you put the pressure most of us do on ourselves, regardless of what they say outside of that, it’s tough,” said Fickell, who is trying to avoid the school’s first losing season in nearly a quarter century.
“I think that’s what the season’s about. It’s a grind. Winning brings out the best in everybody. When things don’t go your way, the adversity hits and does it make it tougher? Yeah. That’s all a part of growth for the coaches and players.”
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