New Players Garner Spotlight, Few Garner Playing Time
By John Porentas
Remember the first day of class in the ninth grade when the really cute new girl showed up for the first time? OK, she really wasn't any cuter than any number of the girls you had been in school with since the kindergarten, but she was NEW, and that made her special, at least until that time she beat you in arm wrestling in front of all your friends and embarrassed the heck out of you..
How about that new pair of shoes you got? They really weren't any more stylish than the old pair in the closet, and they hurt your feet because they weren't broken in yet, but you couldn't wait to show them off, because they were the new pair. Of course you ended up with blisters because they didn't fit nearly as well as that pair you had been wearing for a few years, but they were NEW for crying out loud, and you just had to get them in use.
The same kind of thing happens every year with the OSU football team. Every year there are new players who are going to be the greatest thing since Chic Harley, and like that new pair of shoes, they fans want them put to use rather than see the seasoned, older players on the field.
It seems it's just human nature to forget that the old pair of shoes were once the new ones. Likewise, that player who has been around three years was once the hot new commodity when he first arrived in Columbus, but that's something that is easily forgotten for some reason, so that new guy just has to be better says the prevailing popular opinion. That is unless you happen to be a football coach whose job it is to put the best players on the field and win football games.
"The thing about recruiting and the thing about all the guys coming in the door, you hear all that stuff, but there is such a learning curve for young people coming in the door," said OSU tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Tim Hinton.
"Some of them will play, there's going to be some guys that will line up and play for the Buckeyes, but I will guarantee you, they will see more offense or defense and special teams on the first day of practice than they ran in their high school career."
That's what gets lost in all the hoopla over the next latest greatest five-star super-duper can't miss phenoms that arrive on campuses all across America each year. Many of them, probably all of them, are physically gifted, but for the most part so is everyone else on the field in Division I football. What separates the men from the boys is not so much being able to do things, but knowing what things to do.
"The amount of information given to them right off the bat is phenomenal, and some kids manage it real well, some kids don't," explained Hinton.
"We were having a discussion today. What was Eddie George? He sat for two and half years. Santonio Holmes was redshirted his freshman year. He helped win the Super Bowl, was the Super Bowl MVP and an All-American at Ohio State. Troy Smith was a kid who won a Heisman but didn't play until his junior year. Never lose patience for that," Hinton said.
The expectations this year are through the roof for the incoming freshmen, and a good deal of those expectations are the result of of the hype machine that ran overtime for skill players like Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson as well as highly touted linebackers like Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson. All of those players may be as talented as touted, but the fact remains they will all arrive as freshmen that are green as the grass, and they will be behind the curve in terms of knowing just what has to be done on the football field in the new system they will be learning. Some of those players may contribute, but some might not. Hinton says that even if they don't, panic is not in order, because more often than not, it just takes time for guys to "get it".
"We make signing day huge, and that's OK, but because a kid isn't 'there' yet doesn't mean he won't be there," said Hinton.
"That's what we can't lose (sight of).
"It's called development, it's called coaching, it's called make them better.
"Coach Meyer has a philosophy that we don't believe in redshirting here. That's kind of his recruiting philosophy, and he doesn't (believe in redshirting), he wants them all to expect to play, and we want them ready to play.
"The reality is that a lot of times the guy that's here just knows more, knows how to get there more, knows how to practice faster and longer, knows how to do things better. Therefore they're ahead.
"We hope that some of them (new players) are great players and contribute right off the bat, but we'll see how that works out once they're here."
To Hinton's point, there are plenty of good recent examples of players not living up to hype early, but finding themselves later in their career. Etienne Sabino comes to mind immediately, but there are tons of examples in every era of OSU football. Remember how good Nadar Abdallah was his senior year, and how absent he was until then? Carlos Hyde is a guy who for a couple of years didn't look like he would every get it, but look at him now. How about Solomon Thomas, Devon Torrence and Brandon Saine? All were highly regarded, and none really lit it up early in their careers, but all came on to be solid players and contributors. Going back a little further, how about Doug Worthington and Jay Richardson?
Still, the expectations for early contributions will remain, and that is not all bad. Fans want to see young players play, and those players want a chance to be on the field. According to Kerry Coombs, there is one thing that they all can do to increase their chances of being an early contributor, and that's enroll early and get a jump on acclimating to a higher caliber of football.
"If you are a mid-year enrollee, that's what our expectation is," said Coombs of his current crop of freshman and redshirt freshman defensive backs..
"I met them throughout their high school season to make sure they understood this is what the expectation will be. Now, they still had no idea, but I thought they performed extremely well (this spring).
"I'm getting ready to get on the road and go recruiting, and I'm going to see kids that are still in high school who haven't had the experience that they've had.
"It's hard to be a high school senior and then suddenly be away from home and be thrown into our environment, but I thought they handled it extremely well. I'm very excited about their future. I think they're going to be really good players."
Coombs went as far as to say that in the recruiting process finding players who will enroll early to get that jump on acclimating is a high priority.
"We know what the expectation here are going to be, so we recruit that kind of kid.
"I think we are looking for kids who have the academic acumen necessary to graduate early from high school and have the type of maturity about them that the can be away from home.
"We don't push that on anybody. It's clearly a kid's choice, but those kids who want to do that and feel mature enough and the parents are comfortable with it, I think it's a huge advantage."
If you are looking for players in this class, or any class for that matter, who might contribute early, look first at the list of players who came in early and got their feet wet. They got the advantage of a bunch of coaching in spring football, and that advantage keeps on growing even though spring ball is over.
"Now to the fall everything goes over to Coach Mariotti," said Hinton.
"We really can't do much with them as coaches, the NCAA rules don't allow it. We certainly hope that on their own they do a phenomenal job of taking the things that they know are fundamentally important to them to be successful.
"For some kids, genetically they do certain things better than others. They may not have to work on things they're real good at, but what did I preach the most about? I really spent the last three or four days in my meeting room, every time I watched video, I said 'Hey, here to me, if I'm you in the summer, when you get that free time on your own, are you doing this, are you taking time to practice this,' because I can't be there, and I can't make them do it.
"But the whole idea is this, coach Meyer uses that term all the time, don't act like a pro. Are you now going out and making sure you are practicing your weaknesses. Everybody loves to go out and three point shoot in basketball. Everybody loves three pointers. I can't to to my left and dribble real well, I don't like that, I'm uncomfortable.
"My guys have got to go out and work on the things they need to improve on, then they'll build off of those strengths and they'll become a more and more complete player."
And that goes a long way toward getting them on the field early.