Pain of 2011 could be Future Gain for Young Buckeyes
By Brandon Castel
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There were a lot of hugs in the Ohio State locker room following a 24-17 loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl back on Jan. 2.
There were also a few tears, as a whole team finally exhaled from what had been a season of clenching and grinding through some of the toughest times this program has ever known.
The Buckeyes finished 6-7, a far cry from their 12-1 record the previous year, and the first losing season in Columbus since 1988. The school has now seen three coaches come and go since that year, with Urban Meyer officially taking over the program following this year’s bowl game.
Interim head coach Luke Fickell had one last message for his team before handing over the reigns so he could assume the defensive coordinator role on Meyer’s new staff.
“There is no doubt. This is the tough side of athletics in general,” he said after the loss, which effectively ended his role as the temporary caretaker of a program that lost its beloved head coach to NCAA scandal.
“You work and prepare so hard for everything that you do, and this feeling is not something that ever goes away, but I think that’s a motivational thing. I told them afterwards in the locker room that this feeling should hurt.”
After a 6-6 regular season that crashed to a close with three straight losses—including a 40-34 defeat in Ann Arbor—some of the players had become numb to the pain. Others embraced it, learned from it and used it to set the tone for the rest of their career at Ohio State.
“We went through a lot this year. But we learned a lot and we got stronger,” said freshman tight end Jeff Heuerman, who caught his first pass of the season in the Gator Bowl.
“It will benefit us in the long run.”
Losing doesn’t often translate into winning automatically, but senior DeVier Posey can see how this season might eventually pay off for young guys who came into a program expecting to have wins and titles handed to them simply for wearing the Scarlet and Gray.
“For the young guys, I feel like some of this season is what they needed,” said Posey, who has never denied or shied away from his role in helping to create much of the turmoil that surrounded the program in 2011.
“They walked into a program that was rich in winning and they never had to go through losses like that or a rough season like that. Now they know what it’s about it. They know that it takes hard work every day. The experience they gained as underclassmen, you can’t match that. I really think it is going to pay off next season.”
Posey won’t be around next year. Neither will Boom Herron nor any of the other seniors who committed NCAA violations that led to multiple-game suspensions and, ultimately, to the first losing season at Ohio State in nearly a quarter-century.
They also won’t be around to serve the bowl ban that will keep the Buckeyes from participating in the postseason next year. Freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier—one of the bright young stars Meyer will have to work with on defense—believes everything this team has endured will only make it stronger.
“This will make us mentally tougher for next year,” said Shazier, the son of minister Vernon Shazier, an NFL Chaplain with the Miami Dolphins.
“The whole defense will be coming back next year and we’re looking forward to it. We will just try and push this to the side and start up a new chapter.”
It was a tough year, on and off the field, for everyone at Ohio State. The Buckeyes were not very good in any facet of the game in 2011, especially compared to the OSU teams that took the field over the past six seasons.
They have a lot of work to do if they are going to get back to those levels—and even higher ones—under Meyer, but linebacker Etienne Sabino believes this year brought the team closer than ever before.
“Honestly, I think as a person and I think as a team, we didn’t have the season we wanted to have, but I think we grew as a team more this year than I think we have in any year in the past,” said the junior linebacker, who played one of his best games in the Gator Bowl.
“Regardless of going through coaches changes and all the stuff that happened, we grew as a team and as men this year. We learned life is going to throw curveballs at you, and we just have to react to them, and I think we did a good job of doing that.”
Ultimately that is what’s important to Meyer, who sees moments of great adversity as the defining measure for both men, and football teams, in their pursuit of greatness.
“As far as a defining moment, you’re not evaluated when you pick up a crystal ball. Any nut can do that,” Meyer said in his book, Urban’s Way.
“You’re evaluated when you get hit right in the mouth, as hard as you can, because you spit blood out and you go after the guy. Or do you put your tail between you legs?
“I’ve seen it handled both ways.”
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