Tim Kight was the first person that came across my mind when I heard about Braxton Miller re-injuring his shoulder. Which is weird, because Braxton Miller is an industrious Ohio State quarterback, and Tim Kight is an old-school track-and-field star at UCLA who looks like he could saunter through a triathlon tomorrow.
For the last two years, however, Kight's organization, the Dublin-based Focus 3, has been working on culture-building with Ohio State's football team. Their on-going goal is to a build a complete brotherhood of trust within the team and develop a devout faith in the power of the unit.
Urban Meyer is such a fervent believer, he sunk what Tim Kight calls an "unprecedented" amount of time into leadership training during spring practice.
"It has been one of the most profound experiences I’ve been around as far as teaching these guys a systematic approach to teaching leadership, which we’ve always tried to teach,” Urban told Eleven Warriors in July 2013. “I’m 49 years old, and I’ve learned more from those leadership classes than the players.”
Tim Kight, along with his son Brian, are not trying to re-invent the wheel with their teachings. Rather, they're part of a new-school of thinking some football coaches — like Urban Meyer's friend, Chip Kelly — are tapping to gain an advantage against wrong-headed but entrenched beliefs within football coaching.
Talent and physicality can only take a team so far in football. The true champion, Urban Meyer and the Kights argue, comes to the field mentally prepared as well.
You can't stop challenges. The question is, 'Are you strong enough to step up and respond?'– Tim Kight, CEO of focus 3
Outside of Ohio State's locker room, losing Braxton Miller is seen as a crippling blow.
Inside the locker room, though, it's next man up.
Brian Kight illuminated it beyond coachspeak. "[The] pulse of the team is both resilient and purpose-driven.
"[Braxton's] a player — a great player, but not their identity. That's what the E+R=O, culture, & the brotherhood of trust work they've been investing in is all about."
Here's how Brian broke down Ohio State's identity:
- Relentless Effort (4-to-6, A-to-B)
- Competitive Excellence (Mental Reps, Game Reps)
- Power of the Unit (Brotherhood of Trust).
"That is who they are with or without any player on the roster. Last year that identity wasn't as strong as it is now. This team knows exactly who they are. Very few teams do."
When asked about the man to replace Miller, redshirt freshman JT Barrett, both Kights were effusive in their praise.
"Unflappable," was how Tim Kight described the Wichita Falls product. "We're going to watch him grow every week." Kight listed his confidence in Barrett's ability to handle the pressure as "extremely high."
As an example, the Kights describe an incident that occurred during their teachings of Ohio State's leadership council (12-13 elder players) in the winter of 2013.
Barrett — the redshirt nothing coming off a high school ACL injury — approached the leadership consultants after the second session. He wanted to sit in the back during meetings and take notes.
"He walked up after the class and said, 'I want to introduce myself. My name is J.T. Barrett, and I really appreciate you allowing me to come and learn from you guys,'" Brian Kight said.
"[Barrett] looked me dead square in the eye, [had a] firm handshake and acted like a grown man. Didn't flinch at all."
And that's how Joe Thomas Barrett IV became the only freshman allowed in leadership classes last year.
But J.T. didn't stop there. Three weeks later, Barrett wanted to know if it was okay if he was sending the leadership teachings to Rider High School, his alma mater.
"That speaks to the kind of man he is," Tim Kight said.
Brian went even further on his elaboration. "When we were around, [Barrett] was constantly hanging after to talk and listen. Even after workouts in the Shoe he'd sit down with Shazier and Guiton to hear about the team culture and how they were trying to build it."
Kenny Guiton and Ryan Shazier: two proper teachers. Hell, Guiton became a legend with 134 passes and an unshakable preparedness.
The precarious thing about leadership training, however, is the true tests happen on-the-fly and on the field. But this is not the 2011 team that staggered to a 6-7 season after losing Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor.
No, the 2014 Buckeyes have been preparing for something like this. And preparation, as they say, is the cousin of success.
"It's all about making your response bigger than any event you face," Tim Kight told me. "It's about deeply-held beliefs."
J.T. Barrett and the players in the locker room certainly have the look of true believers.
We could all be believers by the end of the season.