The jump from high school football to college football is immense.
In order to better handle that transition, some players enroll early so that they can train and get a lay of the land months before they ever have to take part in a single practice.
But that doesn’t mean they get eased into the experience.
Currently, Ohio State has 14 true freshmen enrolled early and they have been joined by former SMU tight end Corey Rau who has walked on as a graduate transfer.
The Buckeyes are now taking part in winter workouts and the mid-year enrollees are getting to experience what life is like as an Ohio State football player.
What has strength coach Mickey Marotti seen from the rookies?
“Well, first off, you’re talking about the largest mid-year group that I’ve ever been involved with,” Marotti said. “So a lot of years and a lot of guys. It’s pretty impressive from a togetherness, serious standpoint, these guys are ready. They came mentally ready for what is coming. They came focused and they are into it. It’s a really good group. We just had a meeting and everybody in our department talked about how well the freshmen were doing just taking care of their business.”
Every winter, the freshmen are kept together at the outset, but then they eventually get integrated into the rest of the team.
This year because of the sheer size of the group, however, Marotti has decided to keep them separate for the entire winter. This will allow him to get to know each of them better, and it will enable his staff to have the players ready to go in spring ball, but it will also force leaders to emerge among the freshmen.
“I don’t want to say misery loves company, because it’s not awful, it’s good. It’s great. They’re really fired up,” Marotti said. “I just think it’s easier when a bigger group — when there’s three guys, that’s a bad deal. And there’s only three guys, there’s nowhere for them to go. With this big group that are always together and they’re always pushing each other, because in that big group, you have more of a chance to have positive leadership early on than you do if you have three guys.”
Nobody knows the team like Marotti and every year the workouts reveal the leaders and the players who can be relied upon. Getting a chance to find those players among the freshmen is a unique opportunity that won’t be wasted.
But even more than the leadership aspect, this is an opportunity for Marotti to be more hands on with each of the new arrivals so that they don’t get lost in the shuffle.
“Spend more time on technique, spend more time on coachability, spend more time on teaching,” he said of the benefits of keeping the mid-year enrollees separated.
“Not just technique, but teaching to take care of your body, making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. The importance of this exercise as opposed to this exercise. Where you need to be in five weeks, where you need to be at four weeks. And when you have your older players, it’s just it’s kind of like chaotic, so you really can’t do that because you’re kind of focused on something else. Now you can put all your lasers right on those young guys and get them going.”
Marotti is each freshman’s welcome to the reality of college football. Recruiting is over and now the work begins. Allowing the freshmen to experience this together means that none of them will be alone in the shock to their respective systems.
And while it’s not quite “no more Mr. Nice Guy” for Marotti, it sounds pretty close.
“It’s fun too to have those guys separate. You guys all understand recruiting and the things that happen in recruiting and you know, everybody’s got to be nice to everybody. But now I don’t have to be nice to anybody,” Marotti said smiling.
“Some of the things that I had to go through when they’re on campus recruiting and all the fun stuff, and now it’s real.”