Junior linebacker Trayvon Wilburn runs a drill in an Ohio State practice Aug. 6. | Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State Department of Athletics

With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting nearly all aspects of life, Ohio State football has also had to make changes to the way it operates. 

In an appearance on the “Morning Juice” radio show Aug. 25, Mickey Marotti, assistant athletic director for football sports performance, gave insight into how Ohio State was handling its summer training. Marotti expressed pride in the sacrifice the players had to make in order to keep the hopes of a season alive. 

“It’s a testament to the program. I think it’s a testament to the legacy of Ohio State,” Marotti said. “If people out there could’ve seen our players over the last three months, really six months, even in quarantine of how they’ve gone about their business and they’ve followed protocol and guidelines and how they worked together and how they made amends of a bad situation.”  

Since the Big Ten’s decision to postpone, Ohio State has adopted 12 hours of training per week, an Ohio State spokesperson said. In a typical fall season, the Buckeyes would be participating in athletic activities for 20 hours per week. 

However, not every team has been able to practice as smoothly as Ohio State since the postponement decision, with Iowa, Maryland, Wisconsin and Penn State all having to pause fall sports training this past week. 

“Penn State Athletics has paused team activities for several programs and initiated standard isolation and precautionary quarantine,” a Penn State press release reads. “Contact tracing is being performed and there is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 was transmitted during practice or training activities.”  

Before the postponement of the season, the Buckeyes also had to pause workouts in mid-July following positive COVID-19 test results in the athletics program. 

Although an unusual situation, graduate linebacker Justin Hilliard said the team has adjusted and will continue to adapt moving forward.

“I think so far we’ve been really good at being able to adapt to what we’ve been allowed to do,” Hilliard said Aug. 4 in a conference call with media members. “For example, two weeks we had to quarantine because we had some guys get coronavirus way back then but we were able to ramp stuff back up and keep the process going to where that wasn’t a problem anymore.”

When the Buckeyes were forced to suspend spring practices and were unable to return to campus for in-person workouts until June 8, the players were forced to handle safety guidelines and training on their own. Marotti said that the message to the players was that they would have to make sacrifices in order to keep the hopes of a season alive.  

“It was ‘You’re gonna have to sacrifice something if we have a chance to play this season,’” Marotti said. “Constantly, there would be blurbs out there from the coaching staff, from us, about staying away from people.” 

Marotti said that one added difficulty of being away from campus and having to social distance upon his return to campus was creating bonds with his players. 

“I was telling some other people that this was, by far, the most challenging time in my career,” Marotti said. “Usually, at least how I believe it needs to be done is you develop that bond through hard training, and if you don’t have that opportunity to be around them? It was so hard.” 

Upon their return to campus, the student-athletes were forced to follow a strict set of guidelines in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Marotti said that the coaching staff worked on getting those guidelines in place for months before the student-athletes returned for training. 

Among the protocols were local social distancing guidelines, a limit of 10 players in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at a time and medical checks upon entry to the facility. 

Marotti said one of the more interesting aspects of the protocols was that the players would need to be chaperoned between areas in the facility. 

“It was really like chaperoning kindergarteners, first graders and second graders to the bathroom,” Marotti said. “I’d make jokes like ‘This is elementary school,’ but that’s what we had to do.” 

While the Buckeyes are still treading in uncertain waters, they are getting by thanks to the leadership on the team. 

“They’ve shown self-discipline and they’ve shown to push each other,” head coach Ryan Day said Aug. 6 in a Zoom call. “It’s one thing to come from the coach, but when you have players get in front of the team and talk to them about how they have to make sacrifices in their personal life, to social distance, to stay at home, to wear a mask and to do all the things to keep them safe and keep our Ohio State family safe. It’s a lot more powerful than when the coach says it.”