Championship teams carry many qualities. Some contain on-field significance, while others pertain to off-field matters. One characteristic seen in title-winning teams is a close bond. Ohio State players refer to it as a brotherhood.
That closeness between teammates has been encountered the past two weeks. In an unfortunate series of events, Curtis Grant’s father, also named Curtis, passed away last Tuesday. But the youngest Grant was not alone in his time of grieving in Columbus. He had 100 other brothers beside him offering their condolences.
One wanted to load up the car and head south to Richmond, Va., to accompany Grant.
“Ryan [Shazier] is one of the most incredible young men I’ve ever been around,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s got a heart of gold. Ryan wanted to go drive down there or fly down there to be with him.
“Ryan’s been raised that way. He’s got a really wonderful family. When Ryan comes to me like that, I’m like, settle down, what’s the best thing to do and how does it affect our numbers and all those things. That’s one of about 50 ideas he always comes up with. But it’s all pure ideas and caring in its pure form, which is kind of cool.”
Meyer said Grant is expected to play Saturday versus Iowa.
“He’s doing pretty good right now,” Shazier said. “We’re just trying to let him know we’re all here for him.”
Shazier ended up not traveling to Virginia. Instead, he ventured west. Not to California but to Greenwood, Ind., hometown of Joel Hale. Linebacker and lineman lived a life of luxury over the weekend. Mrs. Hale pampered the duo with home cooked meals, and when she wasn’t in the kitchen, Shazier and Hale were sampling the local fare at Hampton’s Market.
“We were just eating like kings,” Hale said. “My main goal over the weekend was to get Ryan back on weight. So my mom was cooking up everything to make sure he came back on weight.”
Said Shazier: “Once we walked into the house, his mom had fried chicken. The next day, she had some steaks. It was amazing. I haven’t had that in a while.”
As the weekend neared, Meyer warned his players of several pitfalls that could be awaiting, among them being over or underweight. A weigh-in would be held on Monday at 7 a.m.
Shazier left Columbus five pounds underweight and came back at 240, his target number. Credit goes to Hale’s mom and a hearty amount of steaks and fried chicken.
“I had an amazing time,” Shazier said.
Whether it’s helping someone during a tough time or just clowning around, the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes have each other’s back. Running backs coach Stan Drayton commented on the team’s closeness Monday, pointing out egos are non-existent. There’s one common goal – winning – and it’s shared by the star senior and freshman walk-on.
During Kenny Guiton’s improbable three-game stretch of success, Braxton Miller was there every step of the way congratulating his backup. When Miller returned, the first thing he did after the Wisconsin game was thank Guiton publicly for all he did.
“I am proud of Kenny and the way he led the team while I was out,” Miller said. “I look at him as a big brother.”
A weekend with family in South Carolina and Tennessee left Meyer re-energized after a rigorous final two weeks before the bye. Back-to-back ranked opponents don’t just leave the players zapped. Finding the balance between family and football – centerfield, as Meyer calls it – is important in Ohio State’s pursuit of the national championship. A burnt out, overworked Meyer is not the path to glory.
Now, it’s a six-game blitz to the finish, with another off week sprinkled in and the possibility of a seventh game looming overhead. Every coach and player polled on the subject of bye weeks said the Buckeyes’ first one couldn’t have come at a better time.
As the winning streak continues to grow, the pressure on Ohio State mounts. It becomes even more burdensome when mock BCS standings appear and the realization sets in that the Buckeyes have to go undefeated to play for the national championship – and even that might not be enough.
“Water-cooler talk,” Meyer said “The big topic of conversation is where are you, how’s it going, what does the future look like? Wait a minute, we’re just trying to have a really good practice. Some people laugh when I say that, but that’s the mindset.”
It’s been more than a decade since Ohio State won a national championship. One of the most insistent fanbases in the world is clamoring for that next title. Buckeye Nation might not get that elusive crystal football this season, but their team is one of togetherness. A stumble won’t be because of a divided locker room.
“Our players trust each other right now,” Drayton said. “There is not a selfish bone that has been exposed to us as coaches and to each other as teammates. You just don't see that.”