Adjusting to college life can be a daunting task for any freshman. For those whose first quarter of classes coincides with their first season of college football, it’s even more difficult.
“Being a freshman here is a tough thing,” said OSU defensive tackle John Simon.
To ease the transition from high school to college, the football staff instituted a program in fall 2006 that pairs an incoming freshman with a “big brother” on the team.
“The older guy just looks after the younger guy and calls him if he needs help … getting situated,” Simon said.
There is no formula for determining the brothers — the decision is up to the coaching staff.
“I think it mostly goes by position, but whoever they assign for you, you got,” Simon said.
Coach Stan Jefferson, who serves as director of player development and runs the program, had more insight.
“It could be by position, it could be by if they are from the same state, it could be if there’s a situation where we just feel that those two people will work well together,” he said. “We try to get a total staff input.”
Though communication among brothers is encouraged, the level of involvement between players is up to the individuals, defensive back Donnie Evege said.
Because most freshmen do not have cars, big brothers often get calls to give their little brothers rides to team events.
They also go to the movies, the mall or other social activities together.
Junior tight end Spencer Smith often finds himself playing online video games with safety C.J. Barnett and tight end Nic DiLillo, the two younger brothers he has had.
The bottom line is that formally introducing freshmen to older players provides a level of comfort, Smith said.
“I’m personally more of a … shy person and definitely when they introduced me to my big brother, he made me feel comfortable about whatever it is I needed,” Smith said. “I could ask any type of questions about practice, class and anything else.”
The program can also be helpful to those who are more outgoing and don’t feel the need to reach out to their older brother.
“There wasn’t a lot of times I had to go to (former OSU safety Kurt Coleman) … but just the feeling of knowing that any time I could go to him for advice made a world of difference for me,” Evege said.
The freshmen football players must balance their commitment to team events with what, for many, is the most difficult academic workload they have had. Having a connection with a player who has been through the same process is helpful.
“Your freshman year of college … is critical. You have to have great time management skills,” Evege said. “We are there to help them balance a whole new world where you have football also with the academics that Ohio State provides.”
Jefferson pointed out that the struggle is not isolated to the football team.
“There are challenges for any freshman who comes to school in terms of a new academic environment,” he said.
Players are expected to remember their big brother and emulate them when they have freshmen to look out for.
“Once you do have that good relationship with your big brother, you can see how they made you feel … and you can make those younger guys feel like they can come to you for anything,” Smith said.
The relationship with his older brother, New York Giants practice-squad player Jake Ballard, has continued since Ballard left OSU, Smith said.
Smith’s case is not an exception.
“Once you have that relationship, it lasts a number of years because that’s someone you can always go to,” Evege said. “Kurt is (still) a guy I can always call for advice on and off the field.”
Even though he doesn’t have a little brother this year, Smith has stayed close with DiLillo and Barnett.
“I have a better relationship with those guys than I normally would have with just a regular teammate,” he said. “It is really, truly like a brother.”