Making the Leap: Freshmen Camp

By Matt Finkes on July 26, 2011 at 1:15p
Braxton Miller is the rare freshman that has the tools to contribute right awaySome freshman are more ready than others.

We're thrilled to welcome Matt Finkes as a regular contributor. If that name rings a bell, it should. Finkes was a stalwart defensive end for the Buckeyes in the early to mid-nineties, playing alongside current Ohio State coaches Luke Fickell (NG) and Mike Vrabel (DE). His accolades from his days at Ohio State are long and numerous including multiple All-American honors, defensive MVP of the Florida Citrus Bowl and leaving school 2nd on the career list for TFLs and sacks.

He's currently the defensive line coach at Hilliard Darby High School and manages an athletics performance outfit, Category 5. He'll be weighing in from time to time to give us a unique perspective on what the players are seeing and going through. Today, he offers insights into freshmen camp.

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I've been asked many times over the years, "How big of a leap is it to go from college to the NFL?"

Time and again I answer that the leap from college to the NFL pales in comparison to what 17-18 year old incoming freshman are going to be facing when the upper classmen roll into town for camp. The physical and mental adjustments necessary to be successful at the college level is absolutely staggering.

Let's begin with the factor that comes to everyone's mind first, physical readiness. The physical difference between players entering their rookie year and the veteran players in the NFL is negligible. At 21 or 22, you are for the most part physically developed. You have spent the past 3-4 years in an intensive year-round supervised training program designed to maximize your athletic potential. Strength and Conditioning coaches at the college level are some of the most dedicated and best in the business.

While the speed of the game increases, it is more through the mental aspects of the game rather than physical side. At Ohio State, I practiced everyday against Orlando Pace and Korey Stringer. Physically, that was as good as it gets!

But, when I arrived at camp for the New York Jets, I had no idea whatsoever the degree of complexity and the shear amount of information that needs to be processed to play in Bill Belichick's defense.

Players coming out of high school are rarely ready physically to compete at this level, especially on the line. There are the Andy Katzenmoyers of the world out there but they are few and far between. My 40 time improved from a 4.91 to a 4.63 over my 4 years while I gained 45 lbs. You develop physically every single year in college.

The demand of suddenly having to constantly compete at the highest level in every practice is quite a shock to the system for those who have come from programs where the focus of practice was to keep them healthy and ready for Friday night. Playing in the various all-star games and freshman camp for three days attempts to serve as a good stepping stone, but it all goes out the window when the big boys hit town!

The mental leap from college to the NFL is comparable to the high school to college jump. The complexity levels skyrocket in both instances. The biggest challenge mentally for many is the harsh realization that life will go on without you if you can't get it right. While everyone who has earned a Division I scholarship was surely a star during his prep years, unmatched physically by anyone else on their team, that is no longer true when they set foot on campus. The understanding and patience quickly goes by the wayside.

As one of my favorite coaches, Fred Pagac, used to say, "remember that guy who recruited you and kissed your ass to be here? He's dead. You get to deal with me for the next four years."

Coaches despise errors, and abhor repeated errors. Making a repeated mistake is the surest way to end up on the bench and the patience for you to come around and get the system is strikingly short.

While camp seems to go on forever, as a coach evaluating his team, the time flies by. Decisions are made rapidly and without remorse. Cohesion needs to be built and that requires determining who will be playing together and getting them on the field with each other as much as possible before the opening kickoff.

The realization that you may be a special teams player or a role player in certain packages can be hard for some guys to take. Not being able to get on the field at all and remaining focused and disciplined during a redshirt year can actually be too much for some good players, causing them to leave the team or not live up to their potential. All that being said, the majority of players will adapt and overcome the mental adversities.

To get to where they are, these young men are extremely driven and competitive. I know my freshman year, I took it as a challenge to show the upperclassmen I belonged. I remember Jason Winrow snickering at me when lined up my entire 220 lbs over him as a nose guard those first few reps. As someone who had already started for the Buckeyes, he had my respect, but I earned his and a few others. I backed down from no one and no competition. This led to some hard lessons learned but they were valuable ones that would serve me well in the coming years and ones I would impart to the next class with a smile.


Comments Show All Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

Ahhhh... welcome 92!

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Bobcat04's picture

Matt Finkes play that jumps to mind first:  Katzenmoyer knocks the ball loose in '96 against IU, and 92 picks it out of the air and takes it to the house, sealing the Rose Bowl.  Welcome to the fold, Matt!  So Finkes, Vrabel, and of course Fickell are now currently coaching, all I need is to hear what Matt Bonhaus is up to, and my mid-90's DL is caught up.

Buckeyebrowny919's picture

jesus...if i saw that size of a man coming at me...i wouldn't want to tackle him either.


Welcome, 92!

To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift - Steve Prefontaine

SilverBullets's picture

I may have been 8 at the time but I still remember being at IU for that game.  Amazing.

Baroclinicity's picture

I was at that game... I remember a few things.  One, it was all too close there for a while.  Two, I think some OSU fans tried to take down the IU goalposts until the IU team came out and threatened to bust heads, and three, some poor girl near us in the stands had a pretty violent seizure (scary). 

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Bucks's picture

Very happy to have you here! The last time I saw you, was for one of those Team Movie nights way back in '95-'96 at Carriage Place I believe. Such a long time ago!


Love the read & good to know you're working with those Darby boys ;)

ERIC OSU's picture

Welcome Matt, thanks for sharing the insight!

Uncle_Buck's picture

Bears to sign Sanzenbacher

The Chicago Bears continued to build their class of undrafted rookie free agents Tuesday, agreeing to a deal with Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and Northwestern defensive tackle Corbin Bryant.

Sanzenbacher was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010 after leading the conference in receiving yards (948) and touchdown catches (11).

Bryant is a former standout at Morgan Park Academy. He had 25 tackles and 8½ tackles for a loss this season.

Sources said the club is expected to sign Oregon State center Alex Linnenkohl, Virginia Tech tight end Andre Smith, Pittsburgh safety Dom DeCicco, Troy outside linebacker Mario Addison, Mississippi State center J.C. Brignone, TCU receiver Jimmy Young, Texas A&M-Kingsville linebacker Tressor Baptiste, NW Missouri State cornerback Ryan Jones and Purdue tight end Kyle Adams.

biggy84's picture

 Fred Pagac, used to say, "remember that guy who recruited you and kissed your ass to be here? He's dead. You get to deal with me for the next four years.

Great story!


Corey Carpenter's picture

Nice work Matt, welcome to the show!

NC_Buckeye's picture

Welcome Matt. I posted this as a response on OTE about a year ago:

1996 Buckeyes -- my bittersweet pick
If you want to get to the root of Buckeye fans’ dismissive attitude for John Cooper and his Michigan foibles — this is the season most will bring up. This team was special. MNC special.

Up to that point, I had never seen a defensive unit so totally dominate their opponents. The reason — Cooper promoted Fred Pagac to the DC in 96 and he subsequently came up with the Silver Bullet defense. Check out this roster:

Mike Vrabel DE
Luke Fickell NG
Matt Finkes DE
Andy Katzenmoyer LB
Greg Bellisari LB
Ryan Miller LB
Shawn Springs CB
Ty Howard CB
Antoine Winfield CB
Damon Moore SS
Rob Kelly SS

They beat #5 ND in South Bend 29-16, #4 Penn State in Columbus 38-7, and then topped it off with #2 Arizona State in the Rose Bowl 20-17. I think they could have handled the #3 Gators as well. Florida creamed the #1 Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl 52-20 and were voted #1 in the final AP.

Just one game where the good guys stumbled — #21 Michigan in Ohio Stadium. Arrrgh!

Man, do I love to watch clips of that defense. And knock on wood, should Tress ever decide to retire, I’d love to see Pagac come back to Columbus. Best DC we’ve ever had IMO.

[postscript - Although I still think Pagac is one of the best DC's in tOSU history, I'm good with Luke at the helm.]


Baroclinicity's picture

>> Just one game where the good guys stumbled <<

If I'm not mistaken, it was literally a stumble... wasn't that the Shawn Springs slip?  That was painful-- I was a senior then.  I just remember all of us being so dejected after that.  There are 4 games that I wish we could do over, that still make me crazy today.  That Michigan game in '96 is one, the Texas game in '05 is another, the home game against USC, and the NC game against Florida.

When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Jpfbuck's picture

Matt Bonhaus, BTW runs a painting company back in Cincy..