As the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down spring and summer practices for NCAA football programs for the foreseeable future, Ohio State has adapted its workouts in order to be prepared for the season in the fall.
With the players off campus and in-person contact limited, the Ohio State football program has used unconventional methods in order to stay in shape for the upcoming season as they have had to adjust to online meetings and limited equipment and coaching.
“It’s a test everyday of who we are,” Mickey Marotti, Ohio State assistant athletic director for sports performance, said. “It’s a test of our program’s culture, of our strength and conditioning program’s culture. It’s a test of what our team is and how accountable they are to each other.”
Junior offensive lineman Matt Jones, who resides in Brooklyn, New York, lifted milk jugs filled with dirt and sand due to the intensity of the pandemic in the city. Fellow New Yorker and junior tight end Jeremy Ruckert built his own squat rack out of wood with his father and used backpacks filled with rocks for lunges, Marotti said.
In some cases, the players’ workouts resulted in damages to their own property.
Junior offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere pulled down his gutter while doing pull-ups outside his house in Tampa, Florida, Marotti said.
“His mom wasn’t too excited about that, so we had to come up with a different plan for him.” Marotti said.
As some players have more access to lifting equipment than others, the Ohio State staff was able to send out three pairs of resistance bands to all their players in order to have more regimented workouts. The coaching staff has also made a spreadsheet to keep track of what equipment each player has in order to recommend exercises based on their equipment, Marotti said.
Redshirt junior offensive linemen Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers both said that being away from the equipment at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center has been especially difficult for the team’s offensive linemen.
“Offensive line play is so different from really any other position in sports,” Myers said. “You have to have athleticism and the ability to move, but you also need to be powerful enough to move large, grown men.”
Myers said he has been running through drills with his older brother Zach, a former University of Kentucky offensive lineman.
Davis said he has put an increased focus on his pass set and other fundamentals during the extended break.
“It’s so important that, playing offensive line, you keep harping on those things,” Davis said. “With muscle memory and stuff like that, you can tend to get sloppy if you’re not going to work on those things for a long period of time. For me, I want to make sure I’m as crisp as I can be when it’s time to come back.”
When the players return to campus, there will still be the question of how long they will need before they will be in playing shape.
“We’ve been in numerous meetings regarding that subject,” Marotti said. “The longer we have to prepare them, I think the better and the safer.”
Despite being away from each other, Marotti said he sees this time as an opportunity for the team to grow as a unit and for individual players to grow as people. He said he’s already seen some growth in maturity among the younger guys throughout the past nine weeks.
The most difficult aspect for Marotti during this pandemic is that he is unable to spread his typically captivating energy to his players at practice, he said.
“It is by far the most difficult endeavour of my professional coaching career,” Marotti said. “Sometimes when you’re in that Zoom and you have 10 guys in front of you, you just want to reach out and smack them in the back of the head, mess around with them, or give them a hug.”