Black January

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 01/12/2012 10:26 AM

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Football
Marotti Introducing Buckeyes to “Black January?”
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, with the sun still making its way towards the horizon, Ohio State football players stood face to face with the man who will make their lives miserable for the next month.

His face will become all too familiar to the Buckeyes, who began their annual winter conditioning this week under anything but usual circumstances.

That’s because Mickey Marotti is anything but usual.

Ohio State’s new strength and conditioning coach even has an unusual title - assistant athletic director for football sports performance - under first-year head coach Urban Meyer.

“He is the most important hire in an athletic department,” said Meyer, who managed to bring Marotti with him from Florida.

“I don’t want to say that I couldn’t do this job without him, but it would be hard.”

From the end of bowl season to the start of spring practice, no one, not even Meyer and his nine assistant coaches, will spend more time around Ohio State’s players than Marotti. 

That is not good news for any OSU players who were planning to enjoy the off-season.

When Meyer took his first head coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001, he put his new players through something called “Black Wednesday.” It wasn’t run by Marotti—who Meyer had attempted to lure away from South Bend—but by one of Marotti’s protégés.

Former Falcons quarterback Joshua Harris described it as a scene out of Fear Factor, but Meyer promised his players that if they didn’t quit on him, he wouldn’t quit on them.

The Buckeyes won’t be forced to endure that kind of physical punishment this winter—especially since Meyer later admitted it was probably too dangerous—but the first two workouts have already left many players dazed and confused by their newfound level of exhaustion.

“The harder it is, the harder it is to let go,” Meyer said.

“It's that whole tug of war theory about there's no way I'm going to let go if I know I gave everything I had. If I've not put much into it, I'm going to let it go.”

If nothing else, it certainly seems like it would require a new level of commitment from the players. While Marotti’s workouts are only one hour earlier than Eric Lichter’s—which had been at 6 a.m. in years past—they require a life-altering dedication. There is no staying up until 2 a.m. playing Call of Duty. Players are in bed by 11 p.m. or they are hurting the next morning. 

“I miss the simple things in life like being able to walk up and down stairs,” offensive lineman Ivon Blackman Tweeted after Wednesday morning’s workout.

Meyer said he plans to plaster quotes from Chicago Bulls’ legend Michael Jordan around the OSU locker room in order to drive home the importance of practicing hard—or as he says, with relentless effort.

He believes that is where the majority of games are won and lost.

“You have to make it so hard in practice that the games are easy,” said Meyer, who remembers idolizing Woody Hayes as a kid growing up in Northeast Ohio.

“I want practices to be so hard, that the games are easy.”

To say off-season workouts have ever been “easy” at Ohio State would be a mistake, and an unnecessary affront to Lichter, who joined Jim Tressel’s staff in 2006.

Lichter did a good job with the program while he was in charge, but Marotti’s workouts possess a more definable quality to match the level of exertion that has had players begging for rest this week.

“I’m not talking about bench presses. Everybody in the country can do that. Mickey has a way of putting guys into different situations and I want to see how they respond,” Meyer said.

“That situation could be conducive to converting a fourth-and-2, or a fourth quarter where you need someone to make a play. I’m trying to recreate that situation, so we can make an evaluation.”

One of only 100 strength trainers in the country to hold a Master of Strength and Conditioning, Marotti is as well respected as anyone in the industry. He served as the strength coach at Notre Dame, Cincinnati and, most recently, Florida, where Meyer recruited him in 2005 after his decision to leave Utah for Gainesville.

“I have been blessed to have had Coach Marotti on my staff for a number of years,” said Meyer, who first developed a relationship with his strength coach while the two were graduate assistants under Earle Bruce in 1987.

“Player issues, motivation, that fire that we talk about – he’s everything and we’re fortunate to get him to come up here to Ohio State.”

The Buckeyes will pay Marotti $380,000 a year for his services—more than coordinators Jim Bollman and Jim Heacock made a year ago. Even at that price, Meyer believes he is getting a bargain. 

“Mickey will have final say over putting together the performance team – medical staff, trainers, equipment people, support staff. He will have meetings at least once or twice a week, and anyone who has anything to do with the players athletically will report to him,” Meyer said.

“We want to give these players the very best in the country, and if it’s not the best in the country, we’ll want to know why it’s not because these players deserve the best in the country.”

Now they just have to make it through the first week alive.

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