The Buckeyes are down 20-14 and everything is quiet. Then a punt puts the Hoosiers back to their own 2-yard line and there is an outburst of energy from the fans of Ohio Stadium.
A three-and-out stop is followed by a punt return for a touchdown by redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall. The crowd goes wild. For the rest of the game, neither the players on the field nor the people in the stands let up.
The energy of a crowd can be a big factor in a football game. And while there are almost always more than 100,000 people in Ohio Stadium on gameday, the task of rejuvenating them rests on the shoulders of Adam Watson.
Watson — a second-year in finance — is the director of football operations for Block “O.” He’s that guy on the microphone starting cheers at the bottom of the student section.
When the Buckeyes are down, it’s easy for the fans to get down too, but Watson tries to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“There’s no negativity in Adam,” said Jake Bradley, former Block “O” football director and spring 2014 graduate. “And there shouldn’t be, it’s Block ‘O,’ it’s fun.”
Watson joined the organization’s committee as one of two freshman last year, Bradley said.
Watson got the job by running for the position against two fellow committee members. Bradley said both of these committee members stayed on even though they lost the election, illustrating the positive attitude of the group.
“They even went into the election saying ‘whoever … wins is gonna be our leader,’” Bradley said.
“Adam just instantly stood out as a leader. He has a classic leadership personality,” Bradley said. “Adam just had it, so it’s like at that point, it’s like now we gotta get Adam ready to take on a big leadership role as a freshman.”
That role was helping lead the section on the microphone for a quarter of the game.
Watson is younger than most people of the Block “O” sports directors, including Bradley, who mentored Watson. There are only two other sophomores directing Block “O” sections, for volleyball and baseball.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t realize (Bradley is) teaching you things until you sit back and think ‘wow,’” Watson said. “He created an environment last year that was incredible … That’s what I’ve been working towards all year — using the example that he set last year.”
Julia Hernandez, a third-year in sport industry and romance studies, said Watson had big shoes to fill after Bradley, who was a fourth-year member when he led Block “O.”
“Everyone called Jake Bradley the best football director we’ve seen in years,” said Hernandez, director of wrestling operations for Block “O.” “(Watson) has definitely stacked up to Jake Bradley very well.”
Hernandez said Watson has a lot on his plate as director, but he handles the stress well.
“He knows how to kinda channel that stress and that anxiety … in a way that just kinda captivates people and really get’s people going,” she said.
Some of that stress and anxiety came from a botched card stunt against Kent State.
The common practice of coordinating section members to hold cards up to create an image is another responsibility of Watson’s. He works with football committee members to design and execute these displays with 1,024 fan-held cards.
On that particular day, it was difficult to put the pieces together.
“We tried to fix it and it was all going pretty well and then a big gust of wind came and cards blew everywhere, I’m telling you during the stunt there were people two sections to the right of us holding up cards,” Watson said.
Watson said he wanted to make the stunt work, which was in support of Maria’s Message, which aims to spread awareness of distracted driving. But he had to adjust and settle for their traditional scarlet and gray Block “O” image.
“As much as he was freaking out about how to fix everything, he was very clear minded and very — he just knew what he had to do as a director and as someone who people were looking to for guidance,” Hernandez said.
Watson said there is only a “common sense” approval process for cheers and he likes to play things off the cuff, though he tends to keep it conservative.
“You’d be surprised how little planning goes into cheer starting,” Watson said.
Last year, Block “O” received flack because the the student section was yelling a curse word as part of a kickoff chant. Some students yell “O-H-I-O, rip his f—— head off.” Watson has encouraged new ideas to make the cheer more appropriate.
“Last year they started chanting ‘O-H-I-O take his shoe,’ over in north Block, and it caught,” Watson said. There are two Block “O” sections at Ohio Stadium, one in the north section and one in the south stands.
Watson has also worked on encouraging the crowd to stay until the end of the game to sing “Carmen Ohio,” even if the Buckeyes are winning big by halftime in the cold, as was the case on Nov. 1 when the Buckeyes took on Illinois. OSU was winning, 31-0, at the half.
“Some of the kids in the block, without me even saying anything, started chanting ‘stay for Carmen’ as people were leaving, I just thought that was one of the coolest things ever,” he said.
Watson’s favorite duty, though, is starting the O-H-I-O that travels around each section of the stadium.
“That’s just one of those things where, you know, people walk away from the stadium going ‘wow, that was really cool,’” he said.
Watson said his biggest challenge is reading the crowd and adjusting his high energy delivery to fit the mood of the fans with whom he’s cheering. He learned that lesson against Kent State when he traveled to the north side of the stadium to lead cheers during a blowout. One fan decided to let Watson know he didn’t appreciate so much spirit at that point in the game.
“(The fan said) ’We’re leaving because of you.’ I was like, ‘all right, sorry.’ Like, I mean you can’t please everybody but it was just one of those things where OK, need to work on crowd reading skills.”
Watson said he spends 15-20 hours during game weeks preparing for the game. He assigns tasks to his 10 committee members on Monday. Tuesday through Thursday, the committee prepares card stunts and other projects. The day before the game, they take care of last minute details, such as rolling T-shirts.
And while most performers find a persona on such a stage, Hernandez said Watson is just being himself.
“Not only is he this hyper, crazy guy you see on gameday, but he can like be kind of — he can be himself in almost any situation,” Hernandez said. “To see him in different situations like he’s leading the section at a football game or just chillin’ at a soccer game or something and he is always very much himself.”
Watson’s college career has been greatly affected by Block “O,” he said. At the start of his freshman year, he said he was a biomedical science major. Since joining Block “O,” though, he has switched to finance in hopes of obtaining a master’s degree in sports management.
“(Block ‘O’) actually opened my eyes to a new career field that I didn’t really know existed,” he said.
Watson said he hopes his experience, from coordinating promotions with the athletic department to getting bodies painted for gameday, will help him toward work in an athletics office.
Besides football, his favorite sports to watch are hockey and swimming. He competed in the latter at North Canton Hoover High School.
“I would say … his energy is the same at all sporting events. He’s very energetic and he has a lot of school spirit. So he could be at swim meets, he could be at hockey games, he could be at football games and he still has the same amount of energy,” said Sarah Evans, a student at Capital University and Watson’s girlfriend.
“He’s very good with people. I knew that all along but I never saw him in a situation where he’s in charge,” she said.
Watson said going to other sports can be therapeutic for him.
“My biggest stress relief is going to a volleyball game and having a conversation with a volleyball player on the other team (or to) heckle the heck out of a baseball player,” Watson said. “I’m not saying that I get a kick off of yelling at people, but, you know, it’s a great stress relief.”