Ohio State football players faced eight practices during a week that coach Urban Meyer said would “make or break” his squad. By week’s end, both players and coaches looked worn.
At the conclusion of Friday’s morning practice, and with just one more session remaining in Meyer’s version of hell week, Buckeye players jogged to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center locker room drenched with sweat. Other players didn’t even bother going inside – they hopped into giant tubs of ice water in the parking lot and submerged themselves.
Meanwhile, cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs wheezed his way through a press conference with a hoarse voice and wide receiver coach Zach Smith dripped sweat on anyone standing close enough.
Between deep breaths for air, the coaches made this much clear: Their players met expectations during the hardest week fall camp had to offer. With the passage of that grueling week, there also came an acknowledgement that Meyer’s OSU program is improving as the Buckeyes were voted No. 18 in The Associated Press first Top 25 poll of the 2012 season Saturday, ending a 49-week absence from the poll. OSU is the only team in the Top 25 that finished with a record below .500 last season.
Despite straining to raise his voice, Coombs said he felt that he was taking part in the hardest and most physically demanding camp he had ever seen, adding, “I think the kids are surviving and that that’s an awesome thing.”
Smith agreed, saying there was no comparison between spring practices and fall camp.
“When you have two-a-days, it’s very different than spring football,” Smith said. “The weight room and things like that. You really see a kid’s true colors on a football field (in fall).”
Stan Drayton, a coaching holdover from the Jim Tressel and Luke Fickell regimes, who was moved from receivers coach to running back when Meyer arrived at OSU, said the running backs and the team at large “attained their purpose” during the week.
“(The players) answered the bell. They knew it was going to be a tough week,” Drayton said. “I really liked the way our team approached the field (Friday). They had a purpose in mind and … we went hard.”
Drayton happens to be overseeing one of the few true position battles in OSU’s team – the running backs under his tutelage are jockeying for position on the depth chart as senior running back Jordan Hall, who suffered a deep cut and a torn ligament from stepping on a piece of glass in June, could miss multiple games during the non-conference portion of the Buckeyes’ schedule.
The running backs weren’t alone in competing in the midst of the mental and physical drudgery of three two-a-day practices as senior tight end-turned-tackle Reid Fragel competed with freshman Taylor Decker for a starting job at right tackle.
Meyer called the competition at the right tackle position between Fragel and Decker a “battle,” and Fragel said he has benefitted tremendously from the two-a-day practices as the battle raged on during the toughest week of fall camp.
“I’m a guy that likes to get out there and gets reps at something rather than look at something on paper and try to learn, so, obviously having two practices in one day really helps me out,” Fragel said.
Fragel, also dripping sweat, agreed with his coaches, saying that his teammates responded to the pressure Meyer applied in the training sessions.
“I feel like we’re starting to gel,” he said.
With the toughest week of camp in the team’s rearview mirror, it might be gelling at exactly the right time considering the high expectations that have been set for OSU, which lost seven games last season.
Sixty Associated Press writers from around the nation voted OSU into the No. 18 slot in their first college football poll of 2012.
The Buckeyes return to the poll for the first time since the week of Sept. 11, during the 2011 season. By the next week, OSU fell from the poll for the first time in nearly seven years after the then-No. 17-ranked Buckeyes’ 24-6 Sept. 17 loss at Miami (Fla.). The drought from a national ranking spanned the rest of the 2011 season, and 49 weeks – or 11 months and 10 days – in total.
OSU will put its most recent national ranking on the line Sept. 1 against Miami University (Ohio) at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon.