All seven of Ohio State’s newly minted captains met with the media on Tuesday night, and when they were asked about whether the absence of Urban Meyer has affected their preparation for the upcoming season, all of them essentially gave the same answer:
Now that’s not to say that Meyer’s presence hasn’t been missed around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, or that the Buckeyes aren’t looking forward to his return from his three-game suspension. But as they went through fall camp and now go through the week preparing for Saturday’s season opener against Oregon State (12:07 p.m., ABC), the captains said they’ve all gone about their business as usual and prepared for the season the way they normally would.
“That’s what Coach would want us to do,” said defensive end Nick Bosa. “Just keep everything normal and keep doing the same routine. Everything the same way, practicing hard and just focusing in on getting better.”
Like Ohio State interim head coach Ryan Day and associate head coach Greg Schiano during their press conference on Monday, Ohio State’s captains credited the team's culture – one developed at the top by Meyer, but which requires execution from everyone – with keeping them focused on the task at hand and preparing themselves for the season ahead.
“The culture stays the same around here, no matter really who the coaching is, so we have a template of how the leaders are supposed to practice, how everybody’s supposed to practice, how we come in to prepare for each and every practice or game,” said wide receiver Terry McLaurin. “So when we got into the swing of things and knew we couldn’t really control what was outside the Woody, we could only control what was inside, that’s kind of the approach that we took, and we just went to work from there.”
The captains also credited Day and the rest of the coaching staff with doing what they needed to do to keep the Buckeyes focused on their normal routine.
“We have amazing coordinators and amazing position coaches, and they’ve taken the role in stride,” Bosa said.
Meyer was placed on administrative leave by Ohio State on Aug. 1, just two days before the Buckeyes began fall camp, when the university announced it would launch an investigation into how he handled domestic violence allegations against former wide receivers coach Zach Smith. But despite the short turnaround between that news breaking on a Wednesday evening and the team holding its first practice on the following Friday morning, several captains said Tuesday that they felt their team was focused on football from day one.
“We kind of just came in ready to work. We kind of put all the adversity to the side,” said wide receiver Parris Campbell. “We knew that, at the end of the day, it was always going to be about the players no matter what. Even if Coach Meyer was there or not, it was going to be about the players. So we just took it as adversity. Had to get through it, fight through it and we got back through it.”
“That’s what Coach would want us to do. Just keep everything normal and keep doing the same routine. Everything the same way, practicing hard and just focusing in on getting better.”– Nick Bosa on Ohio State's approach to preseason practices
Smith was fired on July 23, less than two weeks before the Buckeyes began fall camp, and until this past Wednesday – when Meyer’s suspension was announced – they didn’t even know whether their head coach would be back. Until Tuesday, no players had interviewed with the media all month – typically, select players are made available to the media multiple times per week during fall camp – but there were plenty of news reports about Smith, Meyer and the investigation that could have distracted the Buckeyes off the field.
The Buckeyes tried not to worry about that as much as they could, though, in order to stay focused on their primary goal: Winning every game they play this season, starting on Saturday.
“That’s what really matters, winning games,” McLaurin said. “Whether (Meyer)’s here or not, we have to perform at a very high level, because really at the end of the day, if we’re honest, Buckeye Nation really only cares about W’s. No matter who the player is, no matter who the coach is.”
The captains said they don’t necessarily feel any more pressure to win their first three games than they normally would, because the pressure to win at Ohio State is always high.
“We have to win every game every week,” Bosa said. “So that’s the focus every year.”
Several captains did acknowledge, though, that the negative perception on Ohio State from some outside the program has given them a little bit of extra motivation.
“Everybody’s talked so poorly of us because of what we’ve went through so far, but I think that’s definitely given us a chip on our shoulder to come out here and show people that didn’t affect us, that we stayed focused for the first game of the season,” said right tackle Isaiah Prince.