Toast of the Town
Meyer’s Speech Inspired Imperfect Team to Conquer Perfection
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the days leading up to the start of the 2012 season, Urban Meyer still wasn’t sure exactly what type of football team he had.
Photo by Dan Harker
On one hand, Meyer knew the Buckeyes were loaded with talent at some key positions, but they were also very deficient at others, at least in terms of depth and experience.
Then there was the matter of a postseason ban, which had knocked the wind out of Ohio State’s new head coach like a sucker punch to the gut back in December. Meyer was hoping he wouldn’t have to pull out any gimmicks or print out any special t-shirts in order to stoke the competitive fire of a group of kids with nothing to play for but pride and each other.
In the end, all it took was a simple toast.
Only it wasn’t all that simple. In a moving speech before Ohio State’s first true test of the 2012 season – a road game in East Lansing against arguably the best defensive team in the Big Ten – Meyer drew a line in the sand.
He raised his glass and dared everyone in that ballroom to follow him to places only he knew they could go.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“We made a toast to one another and said this is going to be the moment when we come together and we’re not going to let anything stop us,” recalled senior captain John Simon.
“Those first couple games were a little shaky for us. Even though we got the wins, we knew that wasn’t going to cut it entering the Big Ten against a powerhouse Michigan State team and then Nebraska the following week. We came together and took it in stride from there.”
With kickoff just hours away, Meyer stood in front of his players and challenged them. He dared them to believe in each other, to fight for the guy sitting next to them and to trust the coaches that everything they had put these guys through during the first nine months was for a reason.
“We were a very evaluative team at the time,” Meyer said aboard the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer last month.
“When players start evaluating a team, evaluating a coach, evaluating why we practice so hard on a Tuesday when before we didn’t do that. There’s not one way to do it and we were a lot different than the way it was done before and it’s not going to change.”
According to Meyer, he and his staff inherited a great group of kids from the previous coaching staffs of Jim Tressel and Luke Fickell. It was one of the main reasons Meyer was so eager to take the job in Columbus after only a year away from coaching.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Bad guys don’t survive here,” Meyer said, “so you’re talking about high quality guys who care about team and care about Ohio State.”
He knew the guys in that ballroom cared about Ohio State. They cared about each other, but they also cared about the fact they were giving everything they had – and more – for something that was going to end, suddenly and abruptly, after the Michigan game in November.
“We were thinking too much about the end of the season and not having anything to play for and I think we just dropped it,” 2012 co-captain Zach Boren said.
“It was like all right, we know how good we are now let’s go play.”
Something switched in the program, and inside the locker room that day. Meyer told his players not to take the toast and not to drink the water in their glass with everyone else in that room unless they were willing to give everything they had for the other guys with their hands in the air.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“You could just see the locker room change,” Boren said.
“Driving to the game was different. Before the game was different and in the locker room afterward. It just kind of took off. We just got an attitude about ourselves and stopped thinking so much.”
A team that struggled with UCF and barely squeaked by Cal on a 72-yard touchdown pass just two weeks earlier suddenly had its swagger back. A one-point victory over the 20th-ranked Spartans on their home field only solidified what had been said in that room a few hours earlier.
“It was kind of like ‘The U’ from the (30 for 30) documentary,” Boren said with a quiet laugh.
“After the Michigan State game, that’s just what we had. We came out to practice and it was like no one could touch us, no one could beat us. We really believed that.”
Everyone bought in. From the seniors down to the freshmen, there was a belief that what was happening at Ohio State was going to be special. No more thinking. No more evaluating. No more pushing back. Everyone who took that toast was onboard, or they were gone.
“We really came together and it was you’re either with us or you’re out of the program,” said Simon, who also captained the Buckeyes through a turbulent 6-7 season in 2011.
“Everyone joined in, and the guys who didn’t, we didn’t want them and we got rid of them. We were a true team and we came in every day and worked hard. It showed on the record column.”
After the 17-16 win in East Lansing, the Buckeyes blasted Nebraska, 63-38, in Columbus. The chase for perfection was on. They nearly stumbled in a sloppy 52-49 win at Indiana, but the Buckeyes simply refused to lose the rest of the way.
“Over that transition from week four to five it was a complete 180,” Meyer said thinking back to his first season.
“They went from a team that was (all over the place) to a team that was all in. It was a magical moment when that happened.”
It started with a simple toast but finished with a perfect season, one that ended just a little too soon.
“I know and everyone else knows we could have played with anyone in the country,” Boren added.
“Just because we had that confidence, had that swagger.
“That toast gave it to us.”
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