To Hell and Back

By Kyle Rowland on August 21, 2012 at 10:00a

The Ohio State football team knows what the depths look like. After all, they’ve been to hell and back more than once. It all began in late December 2010 when the program as they knew it changed. In one fell swoop, everything was turned upside down.

Marotti has been an asset to Meyer.

Turmoil became a constant for the 2011 season, the pre-Sugar Bowl press conference acting as a precursor for the future. What followed was an unmemorable season that dissolved with an 0-fer end to November and a mid-tier bowl loss to Florida.

It was hell for a fanbase and assembly of players used to national prominence, Big Ten championships and wins over Michigan. Instead, the Buckeyes received national ridicule, their first losing conference record in more than a decade and the end of a seven-game win streak against That Team Up North.

Enter Urban Meyer. Just two days after the Maize and Blue beat their hated rivals to the South, Ohio State immediately stole back momentum in the rivalry. All was right in Buckeyeland. The players respect and admire (still do) what Luke Fickell did for Ohio State football in 2011. But make no mistake about it, the hiring of Meyer thrilled the locker room.

The retaining of Fickell and hire of Mickey Marotti from Florida were two power moves and strokes of brilliance by Meyer. Marotti was a shadowy figure to many in the world of college football, but they knew he was hailed as a Messiah by former players and a trusted confidant of Meyer’s.

“He is the most important hire in the athletic department,” Meyer said of Marotti. “I don’t want to say that I couldn’t do this job without him, but it would be hard.”

Ohio State got to know him – quite rudely, actually. On a cold Tuesday in January, 100-plus members of the Buckeye football team entered a hell that was frozen over. Winter conditioning in a Meyer-coached program takes on an entirely new definition. It is more comparable to boot camp than a football game.

In 2001, a day known as “Black Friday” hovered over Bowling Green, Ohio, as Meyer worked his Falcons far past the state of exhaustion. Marotti wasn’t a part of that strength staff, but an apprentice was. For two hours, the only time players stopped running was to vomit into trash cans. Dozens quit the team. But those who stayed were rewarded with 17 wins in Meyer’s two seasons at BG, this at a program that had not finished with a winning record since 1994. They also developed lasting relationships built on the foundation of hard work.

"He's a guy that I have a lot of respect for and a lot of love for," Josh Harris, Meyer’s quarterback at Bowling Green, said. "When he came to (Bowling Green), he came as the wide receivers coach from Notre Dame, so he didn't come in with a prestigious background. What he did do was he set the expectations from day one in that first team meeting. The first thing he said to us was, 'I've got three rules: the first thing is to love the game of football, to love and respect your teammates and to love and respect your university.’

"It really set a precedent for not only how we were going to prepare, but how we were going to perform on Saturdays and how we were going to carry ourselves. The guys that stayed on board, and the guys that bought into the system, they'll never be the same."

Boren is in the best shape of his career.

There wasn’t a mass exodus from Ohio State, though there were some defections. However, the Buckeyes took the Bowling Green approach and banded together. They approached the 5 a.m. workouts with resolve and came out the other end better because of it. Conditioning improved from January to February; after spring practice, the staff was even more impressed and when fall camp commenced, Marotti could be seen beaming like a proud father.

Marotti is hard-nosed and serious, but he carries a good sense of humor – a laugh or smile never far away. He’s one of only 100 strength trainers in the country to hold the title Master of Strength and Conditioning. At Ohio State, Marotti is the assistant athletics director for sport performance. With that comes a hefty paycheck, but for Meyer, Marotti is worth every penny.

“I have been blessed to have had Coach Marotti on my staff for a number of years,” Meyer said. “Player issues, motivation - he’s everything and we’re fortunate to get him to come up here to Ohio State.

"I usually put the strength coach No. 1 (on my staff). Then the offensive line coach and your defensive coordinator. But strength coach is No. 1.”

Once the coaches’ interaction with players ceased over the summer, Marotti was the man in charge of the Ohio State football program. And he took to the team like a mechanic fine-tuning his prized hotrod. But it was all part of a plan: to have the best offseason in college football history.

Meyer preached that message to the team in January, and it stayed in the backs of their minds throughout the winter and spring and into the summer. Consider that goal accomplished. The success stories on the team are never-ending when it comes to what Marotti was able to do to their bodies.

More muscle, less weight, better conditioned – the list goes on and on.

"They were all tough workouts,” senior captain Zach Boren said. “They were all hard. I'm actually going to say that we've had the best offseason in the history of college football. I honestly think we had that because guys are pushing themselves that hard. I've never seen it before.”

How hard were the Buckeyes working? The night before Boren and fellow captains John Simon and Etienne Sabino left for Big Ten media days in Chicago they had a night workout and conditioning test.

Simon, a workout freak, could hardly contain himself while talking about Marotti’s regimen. He was almost waxing poetic.

Workouts have been embraced by Simon.

"There might be mornings where it's 5 o'clock and you walk in there,” Simon said, “you might be lagging or a little tired, but you walk in and the music is blasting and everybody is screaming, coaches are bumping into you, everybody is riling you up and before you know it, you're hyped for the workout. I get excited just talking about it.”

As camp began, Meyer could see the results of the extra summer work. After easing the team into the playbook, last week was designated as a “hell” week. Meyer didn’t mince words when he described the ensuing pain the team would feel.

“This will be the hardest week of training camp,” he said. “This will make or break us.”

Part of Meyer’s philosophy is to break down the team and then build them back up. Another goal is to make practices so grueling that games become easy. It’s a lesson Meyer learned from Michael Jordan.

The conditioning helps both sides of the ball: the fast-paced offense will be able to strike against a beleaguered defense, and the Silver Bullets will remain fresh deep in to the fourth quarter.

“The better the team, the harder the training camp," Meyer said.

On Friday, a trio of assistant coaches said the Buckeyes met all challenges thrown at them and the head coach concurred Monday.

“They answered the bell,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said. “They knew it was going to be a tough week. I really liked the way our team approached the field. They had a purpose in mind.”

It’s the only way Ohio State knows how to perform – 100 percent effort on every rep. When you’ve seen the depths of the college football world, a week of strenuous conditioning seems minor in nature.

The Urban Meyer buy-in rate inside the Buckeye locker room is in the A+ range. Since he was hired in November, his message has seeped into his players and taken hold. As the regular season approaches, lessons from January, April, June and July become even more valuable.

Championships are won with defense, but they also formulate in offseasons filled with diligence.

Texas A&M went to Junction City; Ohio State went to Hell.


Comments Show All Comments

ajbosu1's picture

Great write up. Even with the bowl ban this has the makings of a special year for Ohio State Football.

Matt's picture

I'm glad we have Marotti, but love for the new S&C coach shades a bit too much into reminding me of the Michigan infatuation wtih Mike Barwis (he of wolf fame) that arose when Rich Rod took over.  S&C is a big factor, but success ultimately comes down to having the right players who execute the system.  Rich Rod's teams lacked the play makers and they couldn't execute on defense.  I'm confident our guys won't poop the bed like Rich Rod's teams, though.

Doc's picture

Well, if you read today's Skully, AACC's players were "stoned" most of that summer and partied instead of lifting.  If you can believe an anonymous Skunkbear.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

setman's picture

Actually, that incident would have taken place during LLLLoyd's last year, if it in fact happened.  

thorvath22's picture

Which would explain the Appalachian State debacle.

Enzo's picture

In TSUN's case you can't polish a turd (despite what Myth Buster's dorks say.)

Ethos's picture

Also, Marotti gets all the praise, but he has 3-4 strength coaches under him, 2 of which were on the previous staff.  The key would be the nutritionist I think, if you eat right and work out like these guys, you will always get these kinds of results.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

thorvath22's picture

Rich Rods offense was a great success...his defense however was awful...BUT i bet if u gave RR Greg Maddison he would have had more success...problem is that RR hadnt a clue about D.

bassplayer7770's picture

I've tried telling this to my stepbrother after he's said the spread won't work in the B1G (just look at Rich Rod!)...

faux_maestro's picture

Rich Rods offense was a great success...


Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

Dougger's picture

The article should have ended with this: 
"There might be mornings where it's 5 o'clock and you walk in there,” Simon said, “you might be lagging or a little tired, but you walk in and the music is blasting and everybody is screaming, coaches are bumping into you, everybody is riling you up and before you know it, you're hyped for the workout. I get excited just talking about it.”
I got so jacked up reading that I almost left my desk.
Can someone refresh my memory by the term "Texas A&M went to junction city"? I just have no idea what that means.
Go bucks

I like football

Matt's picture

I think that's a reference to Bear Bryant's infamous training camps

cinserious's picture

He’s one of only 100 strength trainers in the country to hold the title Master of Strength and Conditioning.  That's a hell of a statement! In just a few short months, Marotti has proven his worth and his work is refllected in the bodies of the players. Imagine what the team will look like with year after year of this kind of training? Its crazy how many players have bought into Urban already and we haven't even played game one. Wait till they see his results on the field and we start winning championships, this will help us pull in the best of the best recruits in the entire country.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Doc's picture

Why wouldn't they buy into Urban's plan?  He has two MNC's under his belt and a Heisman trophy winner.  It's not like Dick Rod waltzing into AACC with one good season at West Virginny.  The Buckeyes better buy in, or not play.
Cinserious, I'm not attacking you, even though my post might read that way.  I'm jacked for foozball to start.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

faux_maestro's picture

To be fair to RR, he had more than one good season at WVU. I lived there and had to deal with the deranged fans on a daily basis but they had a couple of good years there. WVU and UM under RR had virtually no defense but his spread was pretty good.

Your mom told me she wants a Dicken Cidar.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Jesus - I almost feel sorry for Miami!  I don't think they realize what they are about to face and it is not going to end well for them!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Crimson's picture

This is Miami of Ohio.  We don't exactly need Meyer, Marotti, . . . to waste them.

Boom777's picture


Wherever you are, there you be!

Maestro's picture

The non stop hype machine that is 11W has me chomping at the bit for Sept 1st.  I am always jittery watching the first game of the season, but THIS season I might actually have to put myself in a padded room to watch the Miami game.

vacuuming sucks

buckeye76BHop's picture

Great article...Boren looks beastly.  Marotti obviously knows what he's doing based on the eye test.  Know we'll see in a matter of days what the near finished product looks like.  I have a feeling tTUN will get to see the final product...should be interesting.  

"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 

Buckeyejason's picture

Like I've always stated I like Marroti..intense, knowledgable guy..but Litcher was no slouch either..don't forget about guys like Gholtston running 4.5's at almost 270, Aj Hawk running sub 4.5's at almost 250 lbs, Donald Washington jumping 40 plus inches, Kurt Coleman, Thad Gibson, and Boom Herron looking more and more jacked each year etc..
My point being that this new S&C staff is great and all..with a proven track record, but we also had a stellar staff before hand.


Crimson's picture

We could quibble about if they would have been better under Marotti.  However, I think the big difference is that under the previous staff, you could get great S&C; under this staff, you cannot avoid it.  Please, do not remind me how many times Adams benched at the combine.  SMH.

Buckeyejason's picture

You make a good point...Adams just seems like a weak pot smoking wuss bag though. Simon and Linsley are benching maniacs and guys like Adams and Shugarts aren't..I guess it depends more on the individual and less on the strength coach.


Colorado Buckeye's picture

Is it true that we did not have a nutritionist on staff before this year? I truly find that hard to believe...

Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever!

Crimson's picture

From what I've read, that is a fact.

ARMYBUCK's picture

I love the fact that Meyer has taken an approach of the greatest Military in the world.  Tear them down and build them up.  It has worked in the army for decades.  I hated basic training but by the end of it all I could see all of the positives of it as opposed to the negatives.  I can only assume there were guys who didnt want to buy into it immediately but once you start seeing the positives it becomes habitual.  In the end we will all reap the benefits.  GO BUCKS!