Quarterback Tate Martell sat down at a table this past February surrounded by at least a dozen media members.
It was signing day for Ohio State and the freshmen who had enrolled in the winter spent some time talking to reporters. One of the common topics of conversation for Martell was why he signed with Ohio State when they already had Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins in front of him, and 2018 5-star prospect Emory Jones coming in behind him.
To put it another way, some kept wondering why he didn’t choose an easier path for himself.
“I have no issue with having to compete for a position,” he said at the time. “This is not where I want to stop. I want to go on and play in the NFL. I’m happy to go out and compete against the best guy out there.”
The Ohio State football program may provide a clearer path to the NFL than any other university in the nation. But clearer doesn’t mean easier.
There is nothing easy about choosing this path. It is painful, arduous, and uncomfortable. It is also one hell of a recruiting draw for the right kind of player.
“A young man who is going to pick Ohio State picks competition,” linebacker coach Billy Davis said this spring. “There are easier paths to take. You can go to another school that’s in the Big Ten or somewhere where you can start earlier. If you pick here, you pick to come through the hard, competitive road, and that competition alone brings out the best in you.”
The results don’t shrink under scrutiny either. They stand out.
Marshon Lattimore watched for two years. He wrapped himself in that competition and provided the only outcome his opportunity was ever going to allow. He chose competition and is now wrapping his mind around a $15 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.
Competition is discomfort, and it is in that discomfort where roots takes hold.
But it’s not just a physical demand, it is also mental. And the results aren’t just beneficial for football. Discomfort reveals rewards in many shapes and forms.
“That’s the only place that mental toughness grows, is in adversity,” Davis said. “The difficult position, the awkward, uncomfortable spot is how you grow mental toughness. That’s what we give these players to not only take into the NFL — I think the piece that’s often underlooked when everyone always talks about the NFL is how many successful young businessmen we have that are out there. The program builds you to be mentally tough because it puts you in uncomfortable spots every day. You’re pushed to the limit every day, and through that you can do nothing but grow.”
Chase Young watched Ohio State’s defensive ends as a high school senior last year and never really concerned himself with, “How am I going to see the field with those guys on the team?” Instead, he imagined what it would be like to compete with them and what that could do for his growth as a player.
The Buckeyes currently have a pair of blue-chip defensive ends committed who are thinking the same thing, and they’re still trying to add a couple more.
As long as recruits keep looking for that competition from Ohio State, the Buckeyes are going to benefit. Not just from the talent, but the mental stability as well. Every team goes through bad spots, but the great teams have a foundation built by competitors. They remain calm in times of crisis. Adversity is just a checkpoint on the way to their destination.
For Tate Martell and many teammates just like him, this is the only way.
“You have to come in here and compete,” Martell said. “If you want to make it to the NFL, you can’t be competing against just average guys. You’re going to be competing against the best guys anywhere. So if you can make it through this kind of competition, you should be able to make it to the NFL, at least get drafted. This is not where I want to stop. This is just part of the process to try and keep going. If I don’t play here, that’s on myself, that’s my own fault for not being good enough. But I’m coming here and I want to play. I don’t care who I’m competing against, I want to play.”