Zach Smith: “This Was About Students”
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Zach Smith was once a student himself.
Not to long ago, actually.
The 27 year-old grandson of former Ohio State head coach Earle Bruce was a walk-on football player under Urban Meyer at Bowling Green State University—at his grandfather’s urging, of course—and then a graduate assistant under Meyer at the University of Florida.
He has seen a lot in a short amount of time, but he had never seen anything like he witnessed Saturday inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ohio State’s indoor practice facility which sits just north of Value City Arena along the banks of the Olentangy River.
“This was about students,” Ohio State’s first-year receivers coach said.
“That’s what makes it different, different than the NFL and every other level, is the students and the fans. It’s just totally awesome.”
The scene inside the WHAC was like something out of a dream, or a memory from a distant past. It was out of place, entirely, in today’s football factory, money talks atmosphere surrounding college athletics, and college football in particular.
Former Head Coach Luke Fickell does O-H-I-O with a group of students
Photo by Jim Davidson
Students are often treated as second-rate citizens, being forced to watch their team play from the upper deck or south stands while big-money donors are escorted to their cushion-covered seats down by the 50-yard line.
That’s what made Saturday’s scene historic. Meyer said he wanted to give the students ownership and access to the program, and he actually meant it.
It actually was about the students, for once, and not the money. Only those with an active BuckID were invited to fill the indoor practice field for a 2-hour Urban Meyer-run practice they will always remember.
It’s also something Smith will likely never forget.
“I think it benefits the students but it also benefits our kids and coaches to get around them, because at times it's like your own world here,” Smith said looking around the indoor field which canonizes Ohio State’s most legendary football coach.
“You're locked in the Woody Hayes, and you’re going, going, going. You lose the magnitude of what it is, until you let all these fans in here, it's kind of 'Whoa.' It kind of hits you.”
Giving the People what They Came For
The highlight of the practice came right at the end, when Meyer motioned for thousands of OSU students, faculty and staff to surround his field goal teams in the west end zone. The fans had already been invited close to the action, but they had been held back by caution tape at the 20-yard line.
Meyer threw caution to the wind, pulling the crowd in tight around kicker Drew Basil for one of the most memorable moments in Ohio State practice history.
Students and faculty surround Drew Basil.
Photo by Jim Davidson
With the wall of bodies closing in on him, Basil calming booted four of his six kicks through the uprights to the elation of the crowd around him. One of the kicks was blocked by big defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, but that did not ruin the moment.
“That was awesome,” Basil said with a huge grin after practice.
“Everyone around you is Ohio State people yelling for you. I didn't know if they were yelling for me or against me, but I just thought it was for me.”
It was, and for every other Ohio State player on the field. And for Meyer, who put together one of the coolest events the student body has—and maybe ever will—experienced.
A Thrilling Day for the Scarlet and Gray
The loudest cheers of the day were heard after Braxton Miller connected with wideout Devin Smith on a 45-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline, and also when freshman tailback Bri’onte Dunn went nearly 70 yards on a end-around pitch play that broke down on the right side of the field before Dunn reversed back to the left.
“I loved it,” Miller said after practice.
“And the students loved it. They were involved. Every time you looked at the crowd their eyes were just focused on the play.”
Miller also hit Smith for a 25-yard gain down the left sideline, but it wasn’t all about the offense Saturday. Ohio State’s Silver Bullets defense also had the crowd behind it when cornerback Bradley Roby intercepted Miller near midfield.
“You are allowed to cheer for the defense,” said strength and conditioning assistant Anthony Schlegel, a former standout Buckeye linebacker.
“It’s ok, you know, to cheer for the defense.”
The defense got a rousing applause when Orhian Johnson intercepted a tipped Miller pass in the end zone. The senior safety raced down the field and likely would have scored at the other end, if not for the row of stands halfway into the west end zone.
Afterward, the students crowded around Meyer, sometimes 10-deep, for photos and autographs with the school’s new conquering hero.
He may not have actually conquered much yet for the Buckeyes - except for a few recruitig battles - but he certainly won the crowd on this day.
Related Story: Open Practice Opens Eyes for Students and Faculty By John Porentas
Related Story: Inside the WHAC: Students Get Up-Close Look at Meyer’s Buckeyes By Brandon Castel
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