Black Stripe: Hooray Buckeyes

By Kyle Rowland on August 13, 2012 at 10:00a
Urban Meyer's recruiting class has shined.

Numbers tell many stories. Sometimes people try to manipulate them in their favor. But the truth is numbers never lie.

Entering the regular season, many numbers help define the Ohio State football team:

  • 1 – returning offensive line starter playing the same position
  • 0 – postseason games Ohio State will participate in
  • 19 – freshmen, sophomores or first- and second-year players listed on the Buckeyes’ two-deep

Needless to say, youth and inexperience are common themes. But head coach Urban Meyer and his staff aren’t moping or feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they are intrigued by the fresh faces.

So far Meyer has done nothing but rave about the youngsters. Despite the relative youth, the talent level is immense, and the two go hand in hand at several key positions: quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line and cornerback, to name a few.

"The best players are going to play," Meyer said. "From what I've seen so far, there'll be a bunch, maybe not a bunch, but a good chunk of freshmen who will play in the first game."

The ascension of so many freshmen is surprising due to Meyer’s viewpoint on using the fall for game preparation, while the spring is the time for position battles. But the talent level of Meyer’s first OSU recruiting class has challenged him on that philosophy.

"I didn't want people taking the mentality in spring practice that if I don't get it done, I'll get it done in August," Meyer said. "Now that certainly might happen, it usually doesn't, but when you say flexible, yeah, the best players are going to play. If someone beats someone out, go get it.”

When he got his first head coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001, Meyer started putting a stripe down the middle of the freshmen’s helmets. When they’re removed, they officially become a member of the team. The stripe program was instituted to help battle hazing. Some sort of initiation was still needed, though.

The Ohio State freshmen have silver helmets with a black stripe, similar to the Oakland Raiders. Through the first week of practice, only two freshmen have lost their stripe: De’Van Bogard and Noah Spence. Meyer said the coaches and players have taken to the black stripe philosophy.

Noah Spence has been dominant despite his inexperience.

“It’s a rite of passage,” he said.

Meyer said the ceremony for removing stripes even verges on emotional.

“It feels like I’m a part of the team now,” Spence said. “But I have to keep working hard to show that I earned it.”

There are no set guidelines on how to earn the right to remove your stripe. But it centers on the core tenets of Meyer’s team values: on-field performance, being a leader and being a good teammate, among others.

For the rookies who still bear a black stripe on their helmet, the anticipation for removing the blemish is wrought with excitement. Offensive lineman Taylor Decker said the first thing he does after each practice is ask Meyer if he’s done enough to deserve a stripe removal.

“That’s a really big deal,” linebacker David Perkins said. “I take that so serious. That will be the first milestone for me. You’re not officially a Buckeye until that stripe comes off.”

Said Decker: “When you come to Ohio State as a freshman, you should come in and compete and try and be on the field. You aren’t here to be on the scout team; you’re here to play.”

Each freshman is paired with a “big brother,” an upperclassman of the same position who helps them become acclimated to life as a major college football player. Whether it's football, school or life related, the big brother is always available for questions and answers.  

“We talk and have one-on-one time,” Perkins said of him and his big brother, Etienne Sabino. “Whenever I have questions I ask him or Ryan (Shazier). They’re there for us if we need anything.”

Though they play on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage, defensive end John Simon and wide receiver Michael Thomas have struck up a friendship. It has continued in the weight room, where Thomas shadowed Simon throughout the spring, developing a work ethic that Meyer calls the best of any freshman.

“I think it’s a great thing,” Thomas said of the mentoring program. “Everything Coach Meyer has done here has been great. Everything is here for us to gain. We have all the tools in the toolbox to benefit from.”

The hardest working freshman.

The “Big Brother” program helps foster a team-first attitude and brings positions together, which in turn bonds all 100-plus players. Leadership and helping out teammates has been a sticking point for Meyer since he took over Bowling Green.

The ability to bringing an entire group of 18- to 22-year-olds together goes a long way when adversity strikes. Every coach in the country has first-hand knowledge of it. But it isn’t always easy to mesh the differing personalities. So far, in his first 10 seasons as coach, Meyer has been more successful than most at doing so. If he sees a big brother not communicating with his younger brother, he’s going to say something.

“I’m going to reach out to them,” Meyer said. “I’m going to remind them that one day they were a freshman who needed some help, so help the kid out, because every freshman goes through the homesickness thing and wondering how they’re going to make it through.”

Some positions are in short supply of big brothers, none more than wide receiver which has one senior scholarship player. And that is converted tight end Jake Stoneburner. Philly Brown is a junior, but the rest of the two-deep – Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Thomas – is littered with underclassmen.

Wide receiver is the most crucial position on the field for the Buckeyes. Their troubles from last season and the spring are well documented. It’s opened up a hole – literally – that Thomas is attempting to fill. An impressive spring culminated with a 12-catch performance in the spring game.

Thomas said he went out relaxed and just played. That’s easier said than done once the season starts and he has his ‘Welcome to college football’ moment. Still, he isn’t backing down from any challenge.

“A lot of us came here to play,” Thomas said “We didn’t come here to sit back and watch.”

The guy throwing them the ball is also an underclassman. Braxton Miller will need to play like a veteran and a leader if he hopes to build on his 10 starts as a true freshman a season ago. It was a rocky year for Miller, who was at the helm of Ohio State’s four consecutive losses to end of the season.

Spence and fellow freshman Adolphus Washington have received praise since the outset of camp. Meyer even gave an “Oh, my” when speaking about Washington on Sunday. 

The duo won’t be starting anytime soon, unless a major event transpires. But depth is a good problem to have. Meyer calls the Ohio State defensive line SEC-esque. The return of Nathan Williams will provide a boost, but Spence and Washington will receive playing time.

“I knew they had a lot of natural ability this summer, and they’re strong and fast, but it’s hard to transition to college football,” sophomore defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “They’ve done a great job so far and you can tell they’re going to help us out on that field.”

From left to right: Joey O'Connor, Josh Perry, Taylor Decker.

At media day Sunday, there was yet another freshman that Meyer singled out on defense. He called linebacker David Perkins’ play in Saturday’s scrimmage “great” and described him as a “fly and hit someone guy.” Perkins, Meyer said, will play this fall because he’s too good at the things Meyer likes. He joins Jamal Marcus as the freshmen linebackers the coaching staff has raved about the first week of camp.

“We have a lot of (freshmen) here that all work hard,” Perkins said. “Before any of us got here we were training to be good and come on campus and make an impression. But when we got here and actually strapped up and laced up, I don’t think any of us expected to play the way we do.

“We all train to play well, but you can’t imagine playing as well as we’ve been playing. We still have stuff we need to work on, but we’re high competition and high effort guys. That’s what sets us apart. We come in here and compete.”

Position coach Luke Fickell describes it as the ‘it’ factor. The coaches want to seek out the guys that have that quality and desire to be great.

“Hey, they don't know exactly what they're doing, but those are the guys you really have to concentrate on and give them some opportunities,” Fickell said.

Unlike the offensive freshmen who must immediately be able to recall even the minutest details of the spread offense, the defensive rookies still don’t have every element of their playbook memorized. At this point, though, it’s not something that is upsetting to the coaches. The sheer energy and physicality displayed on the field is good enough.

"With some of the young faces, we don't ask them to get involved with a whole lot of deep thinking," Meyer said. “There's a kid named Jamal Marcus; he doesn't know which way up is right now, but he knows how to get from Point A to Point B, and he'll run over anything in his way to get to Point B. There's a good chance we'll find a way to get him on the field.

"I'm looking right now for more of the physical, relentless effort. You can't learn the whole defense right now. It will have to be bits and pieces, and we're not going to waste time with guys that aren't going to play. So we have to identify the Point A to Point B people right now."

And with that, a stripe will be removed.


Comments Show All Comments

rdubs's picture

Haven't gotten past the headline and already a great article.

FROMTHE18's picture

Perry is a beast

Buckeyejason's picture

Perry is going to have a scary frame in 3-4 years...what potential that kid has. A great kid as well!
I think hes got the longest arms I've ever seen!


CC's picture

In the photo with Decker and O'Conner his arms look about 6 inches longer than OConner's at the same height.  Freaky.
I have to top you on the long arms contest though... you are forgetting Alonzo Spellman!

buckeyedude's picture

I remember well that dude's arms when he wore the scarlet and gray. In the picture above, he looks like Sasquatch.
Just sayin.



CC's picture

Any word on how Tommy Schutt is doing?  Big recruit but I haven't heard a word about him.
Interesting that Jamal Marcus, the 4th rated DE in the class will probably see action as a freshman.
Love stories like that.

tennbuckeye19's picture

Marcus is a linebacker.

CC's picture

6'3 245 - that's a big linebacker.  Who knows how accurate the numbers are but good on him.

bassplayer7770's picture

He's listed at 6'2" and 225 lbs. on the OSU roster.

CC's picture

Funny how they are listed so much bigger in scout.

Buckeyejason's picture

I think with Goebel and possibly Hankins gone..we'll he seeing a lot of him next season.


Silverbuck8's picture

Kyle,  I was expecting R. Southward to come in and show some big play ability, to date there hasn't been any mention of him good or bad.  Anyone heard or seen anything at all about him?

hodge's picture

I'm sure that part of his relative obscurity stems from the fact that really had one year of high school football.  As an underclassman (and even as a junior) he was buried on the depth chart by legit D-1 talent.  I think that's also why you see Thomas excelling: he not only had an excellent high school career (and an awesome mentor in his uncle, Keyshawn Johnson), but he also had an extra year of polish at Fork Union Military Academy.

Kyle Rowland's picture

Good question, and I thought the same. He hasn't really done anything noteworthy so far. Lots of depth at that position, though it is perceieved as an area of weakness. 

Silverbuck8's picture

Guess this news isnt what I was looking for per Bucknuts
Ricquan Southward: “They’re not big fans. Urban didn’t recruit him while he was at Florida which says a lot, but you could say the same thing about (Carlos) Hyde and they like him a lot. But Southward isn’t going to play there. He has the chance to play right now because they need wideouts to step up, but he doesn’t really do anything that stands out. I’ll be surprised if he’s still here a year from now.”

Buckeyejason's picture

My gut feeling always thought that as well. I think we've had two receivers from Florida be succesful here in the last 10 years..Santonio and Jenkins. 2 all time greats vs a bunch that couldn't cut it or what not.


Jeff Beck's picture

Excellent headline.

Rapping Bum's picture

10/10 for the headline.
Really excited for the season now, Josh Perry looks scary.  I think if he wouldn't have committed so early he probably would've been a more talked about recruit. 

Help is on the way.

bukyze's picture

I had to go back and re-read the headline.  Good one!  It just blows that there are only 11.2 ounces in their bottle.

btalbert25's picture

Good stuff!  2 of the bullets are exactly why I think this team will end up 9-3 or 8-4.  Going to have a lot to of inexperience, even by those who have been around for a while with the new offense and the new staff in place. 

Boom777's picture

 "we're not going to waste time with guys that aren't going to play." The way it should be.

Wherever you are, there you be!

Rural Meyer's picture

lol josh perry is bigger then Joey O'conner

Buckeyejason's picture

Maybe a little taller..bigger? No.


buckeye76BHop's picture

Nice!  I love a good Yuengling lager myself...but Red Stripe is a good choice too.  I've always wanted to say something about that beverage in your hand Ramzy... ;-)

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

Jdadams01's picture

The athleticism improved quite a bit with Meyer's first recruiting class. On defense alone, Marcus, Perry, Spence, Washington, Perkins, Pittman, Reeves, and Williams are all ridiculous athletic guys. Tress always brought in top notch athleticism, but the quantity in the '12 class is pretty astounding.

Buckeyejason's picture

I agree, and if they can become sound disciplined football out!!


CC's picture

I'm as pumped as the next guy but if you look at past recruiting classes this class is somewhat average from a stars perspective.  I hope they turn out to be as good as billed, but I want to see it on the field.
Look at the TP class, they had tons of talent and did well, but look where we are today.
I think UFM will have more impact than the players per se.

buckeye76BHop's picture

The "stars" really don't the grand scheme of things (skills that can't be taught are another story).  This class actually had more higher ranked star players than many of Tressel's.  He made more out of 2 and 3 star guys than Meyer did at FL.  However, I don't think we get Spence if Tress was HC.  I think we would have gotten Adolphus Washington, but not many we did with Urban did in just one month as HC.  Some would say the scandal was the only factor...I disagree.  Tress wasn't even going after Spence and some others that signed by Feb last year (back in May Tress was busy perhaps due to inundation of good Ole ESPIN and their relentless coverage of "the Tat-gate" from Feb. to May 2011, unreal if you think about how long they covered that garbage).  Tress was a good recruiter but not quite like we've seen Meyer doing with relentless style since becoming HC (may be just a different style but I'm not so sure).  I know this....I'm so excited to see these Freshman get a chance to play and hopefully we will 9/1 against Miami of Ohio.  Only 17 days!

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

johnblairgobucks's picture

will any freshman still be wearing black stripes against Miami?  Or do those kind of players not need to even suit up?