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Fans given chance to go ‘behind the helmet’

Cody Cousino / Photo editor

Ohio State students, staff and Buckeye fans had the rare opportunity to interact with their football team Saturday, as coach Urban Meyer held a two-hour open practice session at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Inclement weather moved the event from Ohio Stadium to the WHAC less than an hour before practice was scheduled to start. Without knowledge of the change, most fans arrived at the ‘Shoe only to have stadium’s ushers direct them to the WHAC. Even with the last-minute change of venue, about 3,100 students and faculty were in attendance.

The event was supposed to include an opportunity to tour the locker rooms and press box during the practice session. Attendees were still given access to Ohio Stadium’s venues, but those who stayed for the entirety of the session at the WHAC were disappointed to be denied access when they returned to the stadium on a shuttle after practice.

Despite this setback, many said they still enjoyed the opportunity to see their football team in action. After practice, attendees were able to meet with their favorite players, pose for pictures and ask for autographs.

“The players definitely had this untouchable aura before,” said Robert Delaney, a third-year in economics. “It is nice to see the face behind the helmet.”

Meyer initiated the event as a way of bridging the gap between the student body and the student-athletes. Meyer said he hopes this event will become an annual tradition.

Andrew Blatter, a first-year graduate student in public policy and management, was an undergraduate at the University of Utah when Meyer was coaching there. Blatter said that while at Utah, Meyer thrived at getting the student body involved with the football program and that he was thrilled to see Meyer continue these efforts in Columbus.

“Opening practice is such a gesture of his commitment to the student body,” Blatter said. “The things that he did at Utah will translate to Ohio State. I think that he really wants the students involved.”

At Saturday’s practice, Meyer made an effort to utilize the students to simulate game situations as the team ran drills. During the later stages of the practice session, Meyer had the fans circle the special teams unit as rising junior place kicker Drew Basil launched field goals over the crowd. Players and coaches urged fans to make noise, giving Basil the opportunity to kick in a pressure situation. Basil connected on four out of six of his attempts, with one being blocked and another missing wide right.

Donn Alspach, an OSU graduate from the class of 1953, was one of many non-students in attendance. Alspach said he has owned season tickets since 1956 and has only missed two home games in 55 years. Though he has seen many great moments during his years as a Buckeye fan, the open practice was a memorable moment for Alspach.

“I was impressed when I heard students were going to be able to attend,” Alspach said. “It’s a special day for Buckeye fans.”

Prior to the field goal drill, attendees sat across the 20-yard line while the team used the remaining 80 yards to scrimmage. Though the defense dominated for the majority of the morning, fans got a few glimpses of Meyer’s prolific spread offense.

When rising sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller connected with rising sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith on a 45-yard touchdown pass, the audience exploded with cheers confirming, for the fans, the event was about more than meeting the players and coaches.

Maggie Killeen, a first-year in biology, said she enjoyed the opportunity to support her Buckeyes.

“After everything that happened with the Tressel scandal, and after the disappointing season last year, it’s nice to let the team know that we are still behind them,” Killeen said.

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