Buckeyes Winning and Losing with Purpose

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Last updated: 04/10/2012 1:00 PM
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Buckeyes Winning and Losing with a Purpose this Spring
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — One of staple tenets of coaching is that competition makes players better. The thought being that it's impossible for a player to become his best unless he is pushed by players who are better than he is.

After all, no player has ever been pulled to greatness—they have to go willingly.

That willingness comes out in competitions of all kind, and if it doesn't begin in practice, then it doesn't end in greatness.

One of the first things that Urban Meyer did when he was hired as Ohio State's head football coach was to institute a more competitive environment for his players.

The intent was for that competition to drive each individual player further than they could drive themselves.

That competition started with the offseason workouts, and wasted no time in setting the tone for Ohio State's future under Meyer.

Mickey Marotti
Photo by Jim Davidson
Mickey Marotti

"To get fast you gotta run fast," said OSU strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti back in January. "To get quick, you gotta run quick. So what's the best way to do it? Race. Or be competitive."

Those workouts began in position groups, and always had winners and losers. Eventually, however, those competitions turned to a team-wide thing and pitted the offense against the defense, and that's where we stand today.

During Spring practices, a few "competition days" have been held between the offense and defense. Drills and scrimmaging is tallied, and the winning side is rewarded with things like Gatorade, while the losing side isn't given so much as a pat on the back.

It's quite a departure from previous years, and the intent is not lost on the players.

"I love it," said defensive tackle Garrett Goebel. "We did it all through winter workouts. You can only push yourself so far, and then you need someone else there by you with equal talent pushing you. It just makes you both that much better. It's awesome."

"It's fun," said fellow defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. "Last year there was never really that much competition. It's good to have that competition edge everyday for practice, just to see eachother fight every day, every play. It's just fun. I think practice is faster when there's competition."

The change has been a drastic one, but it's also one that has clearly been met with receptive participants. If competition wasn't fun, we wouldn't do it. The fact that competition makes players better is almost a secondary incentive.

Basically, players love to compete and hate to lose. The incentive, then, is to win, and in striving for that incentive, a player will also become a better player.

It's a win-win situation, even if you lose.

"The sign of a truly great player is that they're going to compete, and they may not win, but they're going to compete," said defensive line coach Mike Vrabel. "We've got guys that are willing to compete and fight. So whether you win or lose, we want to find out who wants to compete right now."

While players are saying that this is the most difficult Spring of their Buckeye lives, they're also enjoying the way it has been conducted, especially when they know the ultimate goal is shared by everyone.

Kenny Guiton
Photo by Dan Harker
Kenny Guiton

"We're all here to play football and we're all here to win," said quarterback Kenny Guiton. "We want to be the best in the country, so everything that we do is a win or lose type of thing. It makes it a lot of fun when the offense is always going against the defense."

That's spoken from the quarterback of an offense that hasn't won any of Ohio State's "competition days" yet. Even though his side of the ball is falling short, he sees the purpose behind the practices, and knows that the results will likely follow.

Being early in the implementation of Urban Meyer's system, practices are even more difficult for the offense now. It's an entirely new thought process for everyone, but there is nothing new about an athlete's primordial draw towards competition.

Right now, the defense is winning the competition against the offense, which is only going to make the offense better down the road. That road is going to be a difficult one for both sides as the days grow longer, however, which is exactly how the coaches want it.

Vince Lombardi once said "The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender." The message being, why work this hard only to give up when the situation becomes difficult.

"The harder it is, the harder it is to walk away from," Vrabel said, channeling his inner-Lombardi. "I think we've got guys that don't want to walk away right now."

This is a new era of Buckeye football, and like all paths to greatness, it too starts on the practice field.

"This is what we needed," said tight end Jake Stoneburner of the heightened Spring practices. "When teams see us in the fall they're going to be surprised how well functioning, how fast, how physical we are, because if you look at our practices and what we do every single day, we're never going to let up."

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