Getting the Ohio State football team ready for each season involves much more than just the practice field.
There is the weight room, the classrooms, and any number of the other rooms in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. Behind every door there is development happening.
And for the players, there is failing, succeeding, learning, and everything in between.
This upcoming edition of the Buckeyes will be no different. Head coach Ryan Day has already said each team has to start over and become its own entity. Returning starters are obviously nice, but every team has new players and new coaches, which then changes the chemistry from the season before.
The key is getting every piece to fall in line together before the season begins.
And that started last month with winter workouts.
One of those areas where things are going to need to fall in line is the Buckeye secondary, which will feature three new starters in 2020.
Gone are cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette, as well as safety Jordan Fuller. All three are off to their new NFL lives.
Slot corner Shaun Wade is the only starter returning, but he will move outside this season and continue the cornerback legacy that Ohio State has become known for.
Speaking with the media recently, OSU strength coach Mickey Marotti was asked about the next wave of defensive backs for the Buckeyes.
“They’ve got a lot of work to do, there’s no doubt,” he said. “They got a lot of work to do. Young guys don’t know. Obviously Shaun Wade’s back, he knows what he’s got. He knows.”
While Wade may know, Marotti also makes it clear to every other player what needs to happen.
“I sit down with every player that week that they got back for school, every player,” he said. “We talked about goals, we talked about how you can help the team, we can talk about what your value is, what you need to do this offseason. We write it down. We have objective goals, we have the subjective goals, and we talk about all different things.”
Nobody knows the team like Marotti. He is with them 12 months a year. He’s not out on the road recruiting or mandated by the NCAA to stay away from the players for the majority of the offseason. Instead, Marotti is in the thick of it with each of them and he understands the importance of getting them ready for the field. But he’s also trying to get them ready for much more.
“This is big, it’s a big winter for them,” he said. “It’s every day. ‘You’re here. You need to get there.’ It’s not going to be a straight line. It’s going to be peaks and valleys every day, because you’re talking about 17, 18, 19, 20-year old young men that think they know. Some do, some don’t.
“And they’re just growing. And that’s the really fulfilling part of my job. It’s not just the lifting and the running and all this physical stuff. It’s just seeing that mental and emotional development that they make over a period of time, it’s just ridiculous. I mean, you can just go back since we’ve been here, it’s crazy to see the development.”
None of this growth and development will be easy.
Sure, Sevyn Banks, Cameron Brown, Amir Riep, and Josh Proctor saw the field on a weekly basis this past season, but it was the rare instance when they were out there with the game on the line. Knowing that one mistake could cost the Buckeyes the game is a stressful way to live. That’s a lot of pressure to deal with, which is why the process of developing the necessary level of toughness begins now.
But toughness means something different at Ohio State.
“Being a tough guy isn’t being a bully or being a physical guy that pushes somebody after a play or whatever,” Marotti said. “Being a tough guy is doing what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it and how you’re supposed to do it and where you’re supposed to do it every single day. And if they can do that, then they’re going to improve, they’re going to reach their genetic potential as best they can. And really, that’s all we can ask for.”