Braving the elements, waking up early on a Saturday, and a hang over which could only be described as unpleasant, I made my way to Ohio Stadium and eventually the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to partake in an Ohio State football practice.
However, this was no ordinary football practice. This practice was open to the students of Ohio State, and for once, a student identification got you farther than any press badge could've. And thousands of students came out to take advantage of the opportunity to see the beginning of the Urban Meyer era.
But it wasn't just students who came out, it was families and alumni as well who wanted to just get a glimpse before their football withdrawal completely consumed their souls. What occurred at the WHAC today definitely did just that for all in attendance.
Going into the event, I believed the whole thing was just a massive public relations stunt to show that the team cares about their most loyal fans: the students. At the beginning of the practice, the players seemed to display a rather extra excited mentality about this practice. Even coaches had a very intense mentality, going as far as yelling at players during stretching drills.
I, for one, was not buying it. I had a difficult time believing that this is how the average Ohio State practice takes place. But then, the team set up to play a scrimmage for the rest of practice and my attitude on this event completely changed.
Cones were set up along the 25-yard line of the practice field and students were invited to come up and sit right next to the action itself. In order to create that sense of a real-game mentality, referees were on hand to call the shots. Additionally, the scrimmage was full-contact. The coaching staff did an excellent job of making it feel like a real game.
Even the crowd was into it as if the Buckeyes were actually at The Shoe during the season. After some small gains on the ground by Carlos Hyde to start the scrimmage, Braxton Miller dialed up a huge throw to Devin Smith which he retrieved in the back of the end zone, causing the crowd to erupt with excitement.
If there was anything indicated by this practice on the receiving end, it looks like Devin Smith is going to get a lot of balls thrown his way. The sophomore receiver was a regular target all afternoon. On the passing end of these plays, Braxton Miller looked a million times more confident than he did going into last season. It can't be stated how much more composed and improved he will be this season.
With only one season under his belt, though, Miller still had some hiccups today. Miller ended up telegraphing a pass which landed straight into the arms of last year's Freshman Defensive Player of the Year award for the Big Ten, Bradley Roby. The play caused Urban Meyer to grab his head with both hands and eventually send the entire first team offense to the bench in favor of seeing the second team get some reps.
For the most part, the defense dominated the scrimmage. The defensive line gave the offense linemen problems throughout the whole practice and the secondary played lights out. The only major error for the defense during the later parts of the scrimmage came when freshman running back Bri'onte Dunn reversed the entire field and used his combination of speed and power to make defenders look ridiculous. It'll be interesting to see if the back can break into the rotation with Hyde and Jordan Hall.
As the practice neared its end, the coaching staff had a treat prepared for all in attendance. The coaches invited everyone to actually surround the team as they lined up to kick a practice field goal. Coaches and players continually told fans to yell and scream as loud as they could in order to disrupt the kicker. It was really a terrific moment because fans were actually close enough to basically run up to the ball and block the kick themselves.
At the end of the practice, students were allowed to come mingle with players and coaches. It wasn't the media who got to ask questions today, it was the fans. Even though fans were told not to ask for autographs, players gladly signed everything they could get their hands on.
So while I began the day thinking that this was just some public relations stunt, it was truly so much more. For fans who are so connected to this team, it truly meant the world to them to just have this time to see that their football team appreciates them. I mean how many opportunities do you get to just go up to Urban Meyer and say, "Hey, how's this team going to do next season?"
This event helped bridge the gap between students of this university and the student athletes who they cheer for every season. It'll be interesting to see what types of similar events occur in the future because I think after today's reaction from students it's easy to say this was a very successful experience for the football program.
After this event today, I can truly say that it's a great time to be a Buckeye and this team is bound for great things. Go Bucks.