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Commentary: ESPN series puts ‘student’ in student-athlete

Last week, ESPN aired an all access four-part series titled “Ohio State Training Days,” that provided viewers an outstanding and positive look at a side of Buckeyes football that the majority of people never get to see.

The behind-the-scenes series reminded us that these young men are just that – young men. These players, who are adored one minute and highly scrutinized the next, are simply college students having fun playing football with their best friends.

High-pitched screams of players while taking post-practice ice baths, looks on players’ faces when the early morning wake-up calls arrived and players showing nerves for an upcoming finals are aspects of student-athlete life rarely observed outside the confines of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Stealing the show in this aspect was sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith.

Probably best known for catching the game-winning touchdown against Wisconsin last season, Smith told the ESPN cameras he has always loved to make people laugh and then showed off his best impressions of retired basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, rapper Jay-Z and OSU coach Urban Meyer.

Another light-hearted moment of the series was the humor of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman. He quoted Adam Sandler’s “The Waterboy” after sipping on a water bottle to make sure it was “all right for the players to drink.” Then, in a quarterbacks meeting, he tested some of his players’ knowledge of the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and later referenced the 2008 movie “Step Brothers. 

It made me reminisce on the days when my high school football coach would constantly quote “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Urban Meyer’s coaching style and his relationship with his players was also interesting for the viewer see. When he talks to the press about his players, what sometimes gets reported is parts of the team that are not performing well or other negative stories.

By comparison, when my dad, a high school offensive line coach for more than 30 years, talked about his position players that way, he was usually upset or disappointed in them.

Meyer’s actions on the show, however, did not reflect disappointment at all. His demeanor throughout the four episodes was completely the opposite.

Meyer never yelled very loudly at any one player and was always positive and words of either praise or encouragement to do better for his players.

He even cracked jokes at players. Specifically, Meyer told sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller not to mess with freshman Noah Spence because the defensive lineman would break him in half “like snapping a stick.”

The viewer can tell Meyer is proud of what his team has accomplished and how much they’ve improved since he arrived in Columbus in November.

Also, the way Meyer talked to his players and to the camera was intriguing. It was almost as if he was a dying man trying to impart every last bit of wisdom he can teach before he passes. 

When cheering on the Scarlet and Gray this fall – especially when bad things happen – try to remember two things before you start cursing the players or the coaches.

First, this university is lucky to have a successful coaching staff that cares about their players as much as Meyer and his staff do.

Second, cut the player some slack. They are your peers and not only have the weight of Buckeye Nation on their shoulders, but the weight of their backpacks and a full class schedule too.  

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