Open Practice Opens Eyes for Students and Faculty
By John Porentas
At first glance it looked like Sarah Martin was having a terrible time.
When we first saw her Sarah was standing at the 20-yard line in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, trying to watch the OSU football practice that new Head Coach Urban Meyer had opened to the student body, faculty and staff. The practice was planned for Ohio Stadium, but rainy weather in Columbus forced a change of plan. Practice would be held at the WHAC, which is a fine place to practice football, but by comparison to Ohio Stadium lacks about 101,000 seats for would-be onlookers.
The Buckeye-faithful who showed up at the stadium were bused on over to the WHAC, where there was plenty of room for the Buckeye football team, but accommodating the reported 3,000+ students and faculty who showed up was a different story.
That brings us back to Sarah.
Sarah was standing there trying to see what was going on, but there were about five rows of people in front of her, making her vantage point close to useless unless you consider the fine view of the back of the head of the person in front of her that she was enjoying. We thought Sarah might be a little miffed at her plight. We thought wrong.
Fans were about five-deep at the 20-yard line across the width of the field as practice was conducted at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"I love it. I don't care. This is super," Sarah said when asked if she was disappointed with her experience so far.
A freshman at Ohio State from Cincinnati, Sarah was very typical of those who took the time to come to the open practice. At first they were a little apprehensive about the conditions and not being in Ohio Stadium, but once they got it figured out, they loved what they were doing and seeing.
Those who packed into the WHAC were cheated of a day in Ohio Stadium, but experienced something that not a lot of "civilians" get to experience, an OSU football practice up close and personal, and entree to one of the sanctum sanctorums of OSU football, the Woody Hayes Athletic Center where the football team conducts most of it's practices and training drills.
"I think it's great. It gets the students involved and you get to see what's happening behind the scenes," said Remy Tope, a junior from Paulding, Ohio.
"I didn't think I'd actually get this close. I thought there would be stands set up and stuff."
No, there were not stands, so those in attendance were allowed to stand at the 20-yard line on the west end of the practice field while the Buckeyes used the other 80 yards for practice. Some of the drills were at the far (east) end of the facility, but a good number of them took place right there in front of the onlookers who were anywhere from five to ten yards away from practice participants at times.
"I like the environment. I think would be cool in the stadium but it's cool that we get close here. We could hear them actually talking to each other on the field and communicating. You can't do that in the stadium," said Ashley Forsythe, a freshman finance major from Columbus.
"You can see the behind-the-scenes.
"You feel like you're right there behind the defensive line or you're one the defensive line," said Forsythe.
It was an unexpected and fun experience for most of the students in attendance. That was also true for other attendees who are a bit more veteran in their Buckeye fandom.
"I think it's great! I've never been this close to the players playing football. I don't want to lose my spot," said Sara Farrar, a front-row viewer at the 20-yard line who recently retired after teaching German for 17 years at the OSU Newark campus.
Farrar was in attendance with her husband, Joe, who also recently retired after a 45-year stint of teaching math at OSU.
"I think it's actually better that they didn't have it in the stadium because, for her, she was able to see everybody up close. You could practically be shaking their hands. I think it really worked out," Joe said.
The event gave a glimpse of an aspect of OSU football that is not commonly seen by the public.
"I've walked by the building countless times and I've never actually seen the inside of it," admitted Vince DiGenarro, a freshman marketing student from Cleveland.
"It's a lot bigger than I imagined. It's super awesome. There's so much more that you don't even see."
It may not be surprising that a first-year student didn't know much about the WHAC, but the same was true for staff members and graduate students who had been around for much longer periods of time.
"To be honest with you I didn't even know this building was here, so it was good to find out that this place existed on campus," said Sarah Lang, a doctorial candidate in Human Development and Family Science and a life-long resident of Columbus.
Long was accompanied by her husband Mark and their two children, Alexis who is nine-months old and Zach, who is a wordily three years of age. Alexis will forever be able to say she got her first look at the WHAC the same day her mother did, which puts her a few years ahead of her mother in that category. Zach, who can be seen hitting a blocking dummy about 25 seconds into the-Ozone Sights and Sounds video, already responds "I-O" to any random "O-H" thrown his way, and is not at all shy in spouting "Go Bucks" at all the entirely appropriate moments.
Meyer's stated objective in staging this event was to create a sense of bond between the football team and the student body and faculty. Despite the rain and change of venue, and maybe in some part because of it, that unequivocally got done. The proximity and intimate surroundings made it inevitable that those in attendance would see their football team in a totally different way after their experience.
Meyer also helped that cause along when he actively involved the crowd in a field goal drill. Meyer asked the crowd to come forward and surround kicker Drew Basil and make noise, lots of it, to try to distract Basil. The crowd gleefully complied, and with Meyer waiving his arms in encouragement, raised a ruckus that belied their numbers. It was clear they felt a part of things at that moment, and was probably the highlight of the day for many of them.
At the request of Urban Meyer fans crowd around Drew Basil
and try to distract him while attempting a field goal. If you look closely, you can see Meyer in a white jacket off to the right and in the center of the crowd.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Even those who arrived not particularly involved with the Buckeyes found the experience to be rewarding. Jeanette Bennett is a post-doctorial graduate student who attended because friend Kade Jetland, a management employee at Batelle, is a big Buckeye fans and she thought he would enjoy the experience. That part was certainly true.
"It's a different vantage point. You can hear the pads really cracking. You can hear them chattering back and forth and the coaches yelling. It's definitely a different vantage point," said Jetland.
Jetland enjoyed himself, but Bennett admitted she was also pleasantly surprised.
"I think it's cool. I'm not from Ohio. I'm a Penn Stater," she said with a chuckle. "I'm wearing my Ohio State sweatshirt today."
Would they come back again?
"I would, just because I'm a junky," said Jetland who then added,
"I don't know about her. Maybe the tight pants (on the players) would bring her back."
Students, faculty, staff and the team participated in a group photo at the conclusion of practice and before the autograph sesson.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Related Story: Zach Smith: “This Was About Students” By Brandon Castel
Related Story: Inside the WHAC: Students Get Up-Close Look at Meyer’s Buckeyes By Brandon Castel
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