'He's On Me All The Time': How Luke Fickell Motivates Ohio State Middle Linebacker Raekwon McMillan

By Eric Seger on February 21, 2016 at 7:45 am
A look at how Ohio State defensive coordinator motivates middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan.

Raekwon McMillan doesn't want you to pay attention to Luke Fickell — at least in a lighthearted and good-natured way.

"Coach Fick, he’s just a talker," Ohio State's middle linebacker said Wednesday. "He likes to talk all the time you can’t listen to everything he says."

Fickell is Ohio State's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, a Buckeye legend that still holds a school record for consecutive starts as a player with 50. He is also one of the best in the nation at his craft, recruiting top talent to Columbus and shelling it out to the next level often.

James Laurinaitis, Brian Rolle, Ryan Shazier, Darron Lee, Joshua Perry — linebackers that were NFL Draft selections or will be this April. All coached by Fickell at Ohio State. McMillan is next in line, likely to leave early following the 2016 season as a junior. He is also one of three captains already firmly in place as leaders of Urban Meyer's team, an honor Fickell said last month he was basically born into.

“He’s on me all the time. He rarely gives me a compliment.”– Raekwon McMillan on Luke Fickell

"The day he walked in, Raekwon was that kind of person,” Fickell said. “Selfless commitment to one another and he makes others around him better at everything he does."

Fickell furthered his praise for his middle linebacker that day, both crediting McMillan's former big brother in the program Curtis Grant for his development and McMillan himself for his determination to be the best leader and player he can.

"For a guy to walk in this environment, to be as highly recruited as he was, to step into this situation and have a big brother like Curtis Grant and truly, truly act the way he did and what he did, that started at birth," Fickell said.

McMillan, though, said it's not all flowers and sunshine behind closed doors at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

"He’s on me all the time. He rarely gives me a compliment," McMillan said. "He comes out here, gives an interview and says I’ve been a captain since I’ve been here and then comes and texts me like, ‘What are you doing? You should be doing this or that.’"

That's what happens when you're a five-star recruit and the top player in the country at your position. That's what happens when Ohio State plucks you from the heart of SEC country (McMillan grew up in Georgia). That's what happens when you're dubbed "The Chosen One" by your peers and coaches.

You don't get a break — on anything.

"He always gets on me about being overweight or something like that," McMillan said. "I’m never overweight but he’s always clowning me because when I got here I was fat."

McMillan said he got to Ohio State in January 2014 at 250 pounds, lost 15 and now sits at a trim 238. His frame allowed him to lead the Buckeyes in tackles last year with 119 as a true sophomore.

But not even that is good enough for Fickell because like any good coach, he wants more. The constant prodding and pushing of someone he knows is a star is the reason Shazier was a first round draft pick, Lee looks like he'll be next and Perry is bound to be an early round selection.


"He’s coached some dogs, but everybody is different," McMillan said. "He tries to come in with a little joke and a little smile, but I just blow past that and get down to the real thing."

The real thing is a motivational tactic used by Fickell to get the best not only out of McMillan but others in the unit. With Perry and Lee's absences, two starting spots are up for grabs. The man in the middle is set to be the same in 2016 as it was in 2015, though, and Ohio State will rely on him heavily.

That includes Fickell first and foremost, even if he gives McMillan a hard time as the leader of the unit.

"If he doesn’t ride me, it’s setting a bad example for the young guys," McMillan said. "Just showing them you’re the leader of the group or whatever, then he’s not going to be on you, but he does a good job — I wouldn’t say good job, but he’s always on me."

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