Ohio State Fall Camp: The Chase Begins
By Brandon Castel
The Chase officially began with 21 freshmen on Sunday, all of them chasing down a dream they have imagined for themselves since they first realized they might have a chance to be something special on the football field.
Those 21 freshmen will be joined by a group of upper classmen Buckeyes this week, all of them chasing something even bigger than themselves. They are after greatness, in pursuit of perfection. It’s a dream many have imagined and few have realized, but the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes understand what it takes. They know what it feels like to stand victorious on the field of battle week after week, test after test.
It won’t be easy. The Buckeyes are no longer flying under the radar, not with Urban Meyer leading the chase and not with a team that is eligible for the postseason again after a perfect, yet ultimately disappointing, 12-0 season a year ago.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Expectations are high. The pressure is on. Ohio State is ranked No. 2 in the preseason Coaches Poll and many a predicting an Urban Meyer vs. Nick Saban showdown in the final BCS National Championship game. Meyer is 34-4 in his career in the second year at a program. He led Utah to a perfect 12-0 season in 2004, which landed him as the new head coach in Gainesville the following year. Meyer’s team went 9-3 out of the gates at Florida and finished 13-1 in year two, bringing home the Crystal Football with a 41-14 thrashing of the Buckeyes in the national title game.
Meyer never tasted perfection with the Gators. He almost died trying – maybe not quite, but Meyer ignored his health for far too long as he chased down something that seamed bigger than himself, bigger than Florida. At Ohio State, Meyer’s legacy has already been etched in stone. His place in history, as a two-time national championship coach, won’t rise or fall on the outcome of the 2013 football season.
Don’t tell that to Urban Meyer. His win-at-all-costs mentality may have mellowed into “win at most costs,” but Meyer is as hungry as ever to bring home a championship – if for no other reason than to stick it to all the naysayers who have come at him in waves since he decided to return home to Ohio State after stepping away from Florida because of health problems.
He’s been called a liar, a phony, a fake, a fraud. He’s been accused of letting his players get away with everything, and in some cases, of somehow fostering a monster who is now standing trial for murder. Shakespeare wrote “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” but even Saban doesn’t face nearly the kind of scrutiny Meyer has since he became the head coach in Columbus.
Now Meyer is prepared to start his second season at Ohio State without his starting tailback – Carlos Hyde has been suspended for “at least” three games – and without the “heart and soul” of the 2012 Buckeyes.
“This year's team has high expectations, riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year,” Meyer said in Chicago last month.
“It's very simple that if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we'll have a success.”
The Buckeyes overcame some incredible obstacles to reach perfection last season. Devin Smith’s 72-yard touchdown catch against Cal set the tone for season full of dramatics. Kenny Guiton became a conqueror. Chris Fields became a household name. Zach Boren became a hero, and John Simon became a legend.
“The leadership was probably the biggest – I spoke about this quite often about last year's outfit – it was something I didn't anticipate and I underestimated that throughout adversity that we experienced throughout the year,” Meyer said in Chicago.
“Two overtime wins, two overtime games, some injuries where we had to move some position guys, and the leadership was incredible. One of the most refreshing years I've been around or groups I've been around.”
What will that look like in 2013? Nobody knows.
What we do know is Meyer won’t be able to count on John Simon and Zach Boren to lead the way. He won’t have Etienne Sabino or Reid Fragel or Garrett Goebel in that locker room. What he will have is a group of guys who are hungry for success. Guys who haven’t tasted a Big Ten championship since 2010, which seems more like 1910 with everything Ohio State has gone through since that 37-7 victory over Michigan back on Nov. 27, 2010.
Terrelle Pryor was still the quarterback and Jim Tressel was still the coach. It feels like a century ago, but Ohio State is still climbing out from beneath the wreckage of the scandal that cost them a quarterback, a head coach and a chance at greatness last season.
If nothing else, this team is out to prove it belongs once again among the college football elites. It’s out to prove something, for a group of players and coaches, but also for a university and a conference. It’s out to prove the SEC isn’t the only show in town.
And with that, The Chase is on…