Meyer Captivates at Ohio High School Football Clinic
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Hilton ballroom was just beginning to fill at Easton Town Center when Urban Meyer began his message early Friday morning.
Ohio State’s first-year head coach was scheduled to speak at 8 a.m., so naturally, he began at 7:45. By the time he hit his stride, more than 1,000 Ohio coaches had jammed into the room to have a ballad of wisdom dumped upon them.
As the seats filled to capacity, coaches crammed themselves into entryways and some were even forced to listen from the hallway as Meyer captivated his audience at the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association’s annual football clinic.
Those expecting to hear X’s and O’s from the two-time national champion were probably a bit surprised when Meyer spent the morning talking about being a “teacher” and about competitive excellence.
Every eye was glued to Meyer as he worked the front of the room, promising to continue the strong relationship Jim Tressel built with the football coaches and programs in the state of Ohio.
“In your minds, the answer is yes,” Meyer told the coaches on Friday.
“If you want to come down here and visit or go to practice or you want to talk or get film cut-ups, yes, yes, yes. The answer is yes.”
Meyer told the coaches that administrators Greg Gillum and Mark Pantoni will be charged with keeping an open line of communication between the high school programs around the state. He also spoke with the OHSFCA Board of Trustees about producing a weekly newsletter that will feature players, drills and the latest news from around Ohio.
“Our number one goal at Ohio State is to make Ohio proud,” Meyer said.
Part of that is making sure the best players in the state of Ohio get a chance to play at Ohio State, even if that means stepping on a few toes in the process.
“ ‘Well we’re pissed because you went after guys who were committed,’ ” Meyer said, referencing the comments by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.
“Yep, and you know what, I’ve got nine guys who better go do it again. Do it a little harder next time. Do it a little harder.”
He also laid out his plan for success at Ohio State, which remains the same today as it was when Meyer took the job back on Nov. 28.
“My job as the head coach is to put a plan together,” Meyer said.
“The plan is very simplistic. It’s not rocket science. You recruit really good players. If you’re lucky, you recruit great ones. Number two, hire great coaches. Everybody knows that.”
That is only the beginning of Meyer’s plan for success at Ohio State. He won’t know for a year or two whether he has hired the right assistants or recruited the right players for his first class in Columbus, but one thing he is certain of is that he is not always looking at the same measurables as other coaches around the country.
“Go out and recruit a player. Height, weight, size, speed, 40-yard dash and those things are all measurable,” Meyer said.
“The immeasurable is will he reach across a checkers table and try to squeeze the air out of your body if he loses? We want guys like that.”
Meyer wants all of his assistants to have checker boards in their offices and meeting rooms. First, so that players are always thinking, always using their minds, but second, and probably more importantly for Meyer, it is to create a constant state of competition.
Or what he referred to as “competitive excellence.”
“You won, you lost. You better not lose next time,” Meyer said of what he wants to see in every drill his coaches run at practice.
On National Signing Day, Meyer said competitive spirit is the No. 1 thing he looks for in a player, whether it be a senior in his fourth year on the team or a freshman who has yet to take his first snap in a Buckeye uniform.
“We will consult with the high school coaches and I also want to see how he does in the big game,” Meyer said Friday.
“We recruited a running back from Canton (Bri’onte Dunn). I was OK with him. Then I found out he ran for over 300 yards twice against Massillon. Take him … because the competitive nature is there. To do that against that school, you have to be a real guy.”
Meyer said he even watches the facial expressions of a player to find out how much he cares about winning and how much of his heart and soul he puts into the game.
“Does he refuse to come out of the game,” Meyer asked rhetorically.
“Is he relentless and plays when he is hurt? Does he go both ways? That makes him more valuable to us.”
Meyer continued: “Is he a kid who takes the extra step? Right at the end, we refused to take a kid from out of state. He was a wide receiver. His extra step was out of bounds. I’ve been blessed to coach some guys whose extra step was to drop their shoulder and get that extra two yards right through a guy. Is he the linebacker who is going to take that extra step and put his nose on that football.”
For emphasis, Meyer turned to a quote from, of all people, former Michigan football coach Fielding Yost, who had a 165-29-10 record with six national titles in Ann Arbor from 1901-26.
“It blew me away. I was having a bad day and I started thinking about the great game of football and how it separates itself from all other sports,” Meyer said of the Yost quote.
“He said, ‘No lawyer or doctor ever approached the top of the ladder in his profession who did not have a love and have an enthusiasm and a self-constant urging him higher. Likewise, no man can be a football player who does not love the game?’”
Those words still resonate with Meyer today.
“This was at the turn of the century. This is what separates football from other sports,” Meyer said.
“Can you play other sports and not love them? You have a bad day in football and it’s a real bad day. If you take care of yourself, it can be a bad day. It is a violent and tough game.”
Meyer said he and strength coach Mickey Marotti attempt to bring out the best in each player, but also determine which guys are at Ohio State for the perks of being a football player and which guys truly love the game enough to give their blood, sweat and tears.
“Half-heartedness or lack of earnestness will eliminate any man,” Meyer said, quoting Yost once more.
“Think about that. We had a guy who was half-hearted. He eliminated himself. He didn’t like what we were doing. We were up at 5 a.m. in 10 degree weather and out there doing bear crawls. He made a decision and said, ‘I don’t like this.’ We try to help players make those decisions. If you don’t like it, don’t do it.”
Meyer said he doesn’t plan to have many quotes hanging in the locker room at Ohio Stadium, but one he will make sure one is front and center from Michael Jordan, the player he considers to be one of the greatest competitors of all time.
“I practice hard enough that the games are often easier,” Jordan was once quoted as saying.
Meyer said his teams will be ones who take that mentality to heart, especially during the football season.
“Our Tuesday practices are the most miserable practices you’ve ever gone through,” Meyer said emphatically.
“They’re full pads. It’s inside drill, stop the run and you’re going to block the hardest looks on offense. You’re going to look like (crap) … because we’re going to try and prepare you for the hardest looks. I don’t want to feel good after Tuesday. You have to feel bad before you can feel good.
That is where Meyer says the “competitive excellence” kicks in.
“The time to find that out is not on Oct. 27 against Penn State,” he said.
“We’re going to try and put guys in positions in the off-season to see if you really like it. That tells you if you have a guy who has a chance.”
Meyer also talked to the coaches about becoming true “teachers” of the game and not just “presenters” of information. We will delve into that in our second piece on Meyer’s appearance at the OHSFCA football clinic.
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