Guest speakers don’t always pique interest in 18-to-22-year-olds. But Saturday was different for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The message was one of teamwork, leadership, accountability and camaraderie. And it came from a Navy SEAL.
For 20 minutes, more than 100 players, staff, family members and recruits were rapt in every word, barely blinking as Marcus Luttrell delivered a rousing speech that left many members of the team ready to play a game.
Luttrell took notice.
“To look down into their eyes, I could see the guys who understood what I was saying from the very first word,” Luttrell told reporters.
Head coach Urban Meyer was among the attendees who stood before Luttrell anxiously awaiting every word. He jotted down notes on a notepad throughout the speech, with son Nate at his side.
The basis for the movie “Lone Survivor,” Luttrell and a group of SEALs were ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005 and found themselves in a raging firefight. When the fighting ended, 19 American soldiers were dead, including three SEALs, with Luttrell being the only survivor.
The Buckeyes will get their fix of speakers this season. Meyer will offer words of advice, as will his cadre of assistants. They’ll have former players and business leaders offer words of encouragement to the team. But none will offer as powerful a message as Luttrell.
“They’re a good bunch of guys, and they’re going to do well this season,” Luttrell said. “It’s an every day thing. You don’t come in giving 60 or 70 percent one day. It’s the whole play like you practice, practice like you play thing. They put everything they have into this part of it. When they get into the games, it’ll come out when the rubber hits the road. It’s the same thing we do in the SEAL teams. We train like we fight. Everyday is as hard and as fast as we can possibly go.”
It’s in line with Michael Jordan and Urban Meyer’s philosophy of making practice harder than games. When you’re in the second half of an intense game, the moment won’t become too big and the level of play will stay consistent. The same preparation is used in the armed forces.
Missions can become anticlimactic, according to Luttrell. They prepare for such horrific situations that a trip back to base after zero alteration to a complex plan can be unexpected.
“But there are those times when things go very bad for us, and because of the way we train, we can rebound from it,” Luttrell said.
As the offensive line continues its month-long battle to replace four departing starters, the group vying to become replacements is quickly understanding the importance of training and how it transforms to stability on the field.
“We’ve really taken that to heart,” junior right tackle Darryl Baldwin said. “We’re all high character guys, real good guys. We just need to be very consistent. That’s what we need to be as an offensive line. Develop a consistency and really play well together.”
Fellow SEAL Billy Wagasy, who played football at Notre Dame in the 1990s when Meyer was an assistant for the Irish, also spoke to the team. He and Luttrell became friends during service in Iraq. The duo said they find sports and the military to be intertwined because of the teamwork and preparation aspect.
Whether it’s a football field or a battlefield, there’s one common goal – winning. When lumped with a life or death scenario, sports can seem so trivial. But the similarities that exist between sports and war are real.
“If you train and practice as hard as you possibly can, when things do start to go bad for you on the field, if you keep that focus and that attitude, you can probably push past all of those bad parts,” Luttrell said.
It makes a second-half deficit to Michigan look minor.