There was a moment of Ohio State’s 2019 football season that Mickey Marotti enjoyed more than hoisting the Buckeyes’ third-consecutive Big Ten Championship trophy in Indianapolis.
It was a day he valued even more than Ohio State’s blowout win against archrival Michigan on its home field to wrap up an undefeated regular season.
The moment was one that Ohio State’s diminutive assistant athletic director for sports performance has seven months before each new season kicks off — a January meeting in which Marotti has the stage to speak before the group of returning and incoming players with which he’ll tirelessly work through the offseason.
“You hit control-alt-delete, start over, blank sheet of paper, and you really map out what the next seven, eight weeks are going to be about and how you can change and how you can improve and how you can enhance,” Marotti said. “That meeting, it’s like an Academy Award-winning deal for me.”
That means one of Marotti’s top moments of 2020 has already passed, but he said this year’s crop of early enrollee freshmen had a different reaction to his annual rousing speech than seasons past.
“Most of the time, freshmen are like, ‘Oh, this is hard,’’ Marotti said. “We had a couple guys right away, Julian Fleming and Gee Scott: ‘That was the best meeting ever! Can’t wait.’”
Fleming and Scott, two top 12 wide receiver recruits, are part of 14 mid-year enrollees for the Buckeyes –– the largest group Marotti has ever been involved in. It’s a group that Marotti said will be separated from the rest of the freshmen class when they arrive due to their advanced level of fitness.
The group will embark on a grueling offseason workout cycle tailored to the needs of each individual.
Marotti’s strength-training program helped bolster redshirt freshman defensive end Javontae Jean-Baptiste from 195 pounds on his recruiting trip to 258 pounds after two years.
For 360-pound freshman offensive lineman Dawand Jones, Marotti said his staff has to invent “creative” ways to keep excess weight off, including two-hour jumpshooting sessions on a basketball court.
But the size of this year’s incoming group is something Marotti said will help the newcomers adjust to the rigor together, as well as develop positive leadership early on.
Aside from running and lifting weights, leadership development is another pillar of the program Marotti has built over eight years at Ohio State and 33 years in coaching –– picking up three national titles in college football along the way.
Marotti said it’s “way too early” to pinpoint leaders for the 2020 group, but cited junior cornerback Jeff Okudah and junior running back J.K. Dobbins as two players who didn’t develop those qualities until some time into their final Buckeye seasons.
But the impact Marotti had on Dobbins’ career was profound, as the Buckeyes’ second all-time leading rusher called him “the greatest man that I’ve ever met” in his farewell message to the program and its fans on social media in December.
I will forever be a buckeye! ❤️ pic.twitter.com/5TFhsPto9l
— Jk dobbins (@Jkdobbins22) December 30, 2019
“He has pushed me to levels I didn’t know I could reach,” Dobbins’ post stated.
He’s far from the only Buckeye to credit Marotti with being instrumental in their development.
Much of that is due to the time players put in with Marotti and his staff in the offseason. He said the Buckeye players see him, the nutritionists and athletics trainers each day –– an access that even head coach Ryan Day and the assistants don’t get.
“That’s the really fulfilling part of my job. It’s not just the lifting or the running and all this physical stuff, it’s the mental and emotional development they make over a period of time,” Marotti said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Ohio State’s 2019 season is less than a month in the rear view, and the 2020 iteration lies more than 32 weeks away.
Marotti’s season, however, is well underway.