Buckeye Freshmen Link Themselves with Tradition
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Urban Meyer came to Ohio State, he brought with him a tradition of winning that has been virtually unmatched. Along with that tradition came his attention to details, his near-manic quest for perfection, and his demand for constant effort.
But winning wasn't the only tradition that he brought with him. He also instituted the rite of passage known as the black stripe for the Buckeye freshmen. It was a tradition that he began when he first became a head coach, and it has flourished wherever he has gone.
Photo by Jim Davidson
"We started that back at Bowling Green," Meyer said last year at this time of the black stripes.
"You start things and some things take off and some don’t. This one exploded. Our coaches love it, our staff loves it, and most importantly the players love it. It is a rite of passage for a player to become an Ohio State Buckeye. You have to earn it."
As the story goes, a freshman cannot become an official Buckeye until that stripe is removed from the player's helmet. The stripe only gets removed when a player has impressed his coaches enough in practice for them to confidently enter him into the official Buckeye fold.
It's on the mind of every freshman, and yet it's not something that a player can let himself think too much about.
"It's nothing that you can really think about," said running back Ezekiel Elliott.
"You've just got to go out there with kind of a blank mind. You've got to go as hard as you can, and when it's ready to happen, it's going to happen."
So far it has happened to 10 Buckeye freshmen, including Elliott. The first was walk-on receiver Joe Ramstetter, who had his black stripe removed less than a week after joining the team.
The Texas twosome of Dontre Wilson and Mike Mitchell were next, then came Elliott and Joey Bosa. Cam Burrows lost his on Friday, which certainly made for a less stressful weekend. That same day, walk-on linebacker Aaron Mawhirter lost his black stripe as well.
One day later, Michael Hill and Billy Price lost theirs, and then on Monday it was Vonn Bell's turn.
"It’s a mental thing, you just can’t worry about the black stripe," Bell said a week earlier.
"Just keep on going four to six seconds. Don’t worry about the black stripe, just play your ball. Just show the people how you got here."
That advice worked for Bell and nine others to this point, and it will continue to work as camp moves on. Much is expected of this freshman class, and those expectations start with those in the class themselves.
So driven to be special, this freshman class wanted to start a tradition of their own in accordance with the removal of the black stripes.
"We have a new tradition for our class," Elliott explained.
"What we're going to do with our black stripes is we all have links for a chain. We're trying to get that chain, for every black stripe that gets knocked off you add a link to the chain. By the time of that first game we're trying to have a chain with 33 links on it."
Those 33 links represent the true freshmen and walk-ons who battle side-by-side, fighting to be made a member of something that will last much longer than the four or five years they spend on the field.
Right now, that chain is 10 links long and the intent is for it to grow longer and stronger by the day. The symbolism is tangible. It can be held in a gripped fist. Plied, pulled, its strength dependent upon every last link.
That's how this freshman class sees itself. If one fails, they all fail. If one link breaks, then that chain is rendered useless. To keep that from happening, they must draw strength from eachother. When they are pulled in all directions, they then pull themselves together.
While theirs will be the first chain for an Ohio State freshman class, they also want to set a standard for every other class to strive for.
Tradition doesn't just happen overnight, but if it's done right, even on its first day it can feel timeless. For the 2013 freshman class, that timelessness starts now.
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