After Ohio State’s physicality and toughness was called into question following its first loss to Michigan in 10 years, Mickey Marotti and his strength and conditioning staff are facing more scrutiny from Buckeye fans than they ever have in the decade since Marotti arrived at Ohio State.
Because the Buckeyes fell short of their goals last season, losing two regular season games and missing both the Big Ten Championship Game and College Football Playoff, some have questioned whether the Buckeyes’ strength and conditioning program is still functioning at the elite level necessary to win national championships.
Ask the players who have been going through winter workouts over the past few weeks, however, and they’ll tell you there’s been no drop-off in intensity inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. To the contrary, veteran Ohio State players who have been through winter workouts in past offseasons say the intensity has ratcheted up this year.
“This has been probably the hardest winter I’ve had since I’ve been here, which has been awesome,” fourth-year linebacker Cade Stover told Eleven Warriors during a promotional event Friday. “That’s what we needed, and that’s what we’ve had. This week was the best week of workouts we’ve had ever since I’ve been here, so we’re excited. We got a lot of guys working hard, and just sending it. Spilling everything they’ve got.”
Stover says that begins with the standard set by Marotti and his staff, but also results from the players themselves taking ownership of their shortcomings in 2021 and striving for more success in 2022.
“It all starts with Mick and his staff and where they set us up and what they set us up to do,” Stover said. “But then it comes down to us actually excelling at it and doing it.”
Sophomore cornerback Denzel Burke says the Buckeyes have been going harder in workouts ever since their 42-27 loss to Michigan on Nov. 27, and he believes that’s strengthened their bond as a team as they’ve battled through those workouts together.
“Oh yeah, ever since we lost that game, the intensity in the workouts kind of went up a little bit,” Burke said Friday. “It’s been crazy. We’ve been going through hard workouts. We just had mat drills. We just had a team run today. And we’re growing together as a team. Our bond is getting stronger. And I can’t wait for the season.”
The players who weren’t at Ohio State last year – including Tanner McCalister, who’s already gone through four years of collegiate strength and conditioning work at Oklahoma State before arriving at Ohio State last month as a graduate transfer – have had their eyes opened by how intense the workouts have been, too, as evidenced by a tweet from McCalister last week.
Shouldve told me what I was getting myself into brotha https://t.co/ne1FXKnzwH— Tanner McCalister (@McCalister_Dos2) February 9, 2022
“Definitely the (ab workouts) really got me,” freshman defensive lineman Caden Curry said during an interview session on Feb. 2. “I mean, I haven’t really worked out that hard (before Ohio State). So kind of getting in here kind of definitely changed my gears, I'm definitely working a lot harder.”
As they’ve gone through winter workouts, redshirt junior safety Ronnie Hickman said the Buckeyes have been reminded repeatedly about last year’s 42-27 loss to Michigan – though he wouldn’t specify exactly what those reminders have been.
“We’re reminded of it. That’s for sure. We’re reminded of it,” Hickman said. “We look at it every day. We remind ourselves every day. And we use it as motivation. It pushes us to go when you’re tired or something like that.”
“This has been probably the hardest winter I’ve had since I’ve been here, which has been awesome.”– Cade Stover on winter workouts
Even though the Buckeyes finished the season on a high note with a win over Utah in the Rose Bowl, Hickman says they “still have that taste in our mouth” from losing Michigan and failing to win any championships last year.
“We didn’t accomplish our goals personally or as a team,” Hickman said. “We came up short. So we’re gonna use that as motivation for the next year.”
Redshirt sophomore running back Miyan Williams said the team’s hunger to get back on the winning side of The Game, get back to the Big Ten Championship Game and compete for a national championship has been palpable as the Buckeyes have begun their preparation for 2022.
“Everybody’s hungry,” Williams said. “Hungry to get the team up north back and get the Big Ten and win a natty.”
Ohio State’s defensive players, in particular, feel like they have something to prove after their unit struggled for the past two seasons. And they’ve bought into the idea that playing better this fall starts with the work they’re putting in right now.
“It’s all in the offseason,” junior linebacker Cody Simon said. “It’s all in the hard work and the grinding. We’re starting it now, and we’ve been starting it all winter workouts. It’s a tough part, but you have to go through it to be the best.”