Going into his fourth season as a Buckeye, Cade Stover says this offseason has been unlike any other he’s been a part of at Ohio State.
“This is the best summer I've had since we’ve been here as a team,” Stover said at the Special Skills Football Invitational on July 22. “It’s the best team I’ve had since I’ve been here. 2019 was a great team. I truly believe that this team’s better. A more talented and closer team together. We’re ready to rock.”
One day later, fifth-year senior cornerback Cameron Brown said he “definitely” agreed with Stover’s assessment of how the Buckeyes’ offseason has gone.
“I feel like all of us are committed and we believe in each other, we believe in the coaches and believe that they put us in the best situations to make sure that we benefit as much as possible,” Brown told Eleven Warriors during an autograph signing.
As the Buckeyes prepare to open preseason camp this week, with their first practice set for Thursday, the consensus among Ohio State veterans has been that the Buckeyes have stepped up their game this offseason.
“We're holding each other accountable,” fourth-year safety Ronnie Hickman said at Big Ten Media Days. “The best teams aren't coach-led, they're player-led. So I think it starts with us, with the leaders and then it trickles down from there. But this season, the accountability level and stuff like that has probably been at an all-time high.”
Third-year center Luke Wypler said players throughout the team have shown the willingness to put in extra work throughout the summer.
“We had a tough year last year. Obviously dropped the one to Oregon and the team up north, and I think everyone really has a sickening feeling in their stomach where it's really now or never for us,” Wypler said during the July 23 autograph session at Mark Wahlberg Chevrolet. “And that's why I think right now, you ask someone to do something extra, nobody's saying no. Everyone wants to try to go the extra yard. Our team motto has been plus two, and I think everyone's trying to go plus three right now. We know what we're fighting for, what our goals this season are and what we want to accomplish as a team.”
Ohio State coach Ryan Day likes what he’s seen from his players this summer, though he acknowledges it’s easy to say that now before the actual games begin.
“Everyone says they look great, right? So I guess I'd be the only coach to say that they didn't look great,” Day said last week. “But there has been an edge to them. There's been a different look in their eye that, we’ll just leave it at that.”
Thanks to rule changes by the NCAA earlier this year, Day and the rest of Ohio State’s coaches were able to spend more time actually coaching their players this summer. While college football teams were previously prohibited from conducting any drills that utilized actual footballs during summer workouts, teams are now permitted to conduct two hours of noncontact skill instruction per week as well up to two hours of film review per week with their players during the summer.
As a result, Day believes the Buckeyes are further along in their preparation for the season than they otherwise would have been entering camp – particularly on the defensive side of the ball, where new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and the rest of Ohio State’s defensive staff are installing a new scheme.
“I don't know if it's an advantage, because everyone has the same rules, but it certainly allowed us to be further ahead in what we're doing,” Day said. “First off, it allows us to be more involved. Secondly, they allowed us to use a football. So we were a little bit further ahead in terms of just throwing and catching and being more involved with the football part of the game and techniques and fundamentals.”
“There has been an edge to them. There's been a different look in their eye that, we’ll just leave it at that.”– Ryan Day on what he’s seen from his team in summer workouts
Going into his fourth season as Ohio State’s head coach, Day said the Buckeyes didn’t make any major changes to their offseason program, as the team’s expectations were already the same as they still are: Beat “the team up north,” win the Big Ten championship and win the national championship. However, failing to accomplish all three of those goals last year – especially the first goal – has given the Buckeyes extra motivation to work harder this offseason.
“It's talked about every day in there,” Stover said in reference to the rivalry game against Michigan. “I mean, that's what drives us. That's what we're grabbing onto every day. I mean, the first game (against Notre Dame) is huge, don't get me wrong. But that leaves a taste in a mouth that you ain’t gonna want to taste again.”
Stover believes being two years removed from 2020, when the Buckeyes’ offseason program was impacted heavily by COVID-19, has also helped them get back to where they should be.
“Workouts have been harder, workouts are like they were when we first got here and COVID kind of screwed stuff up a little bit,” Stover said. “We're back now. People pushing their limits, that’s what’s good.”
Of course, the real tests are still to come, and they’ll come quickly when the Buckeyes open their season against Notre Dame on Sept. 3. So while Day believes there is positive momentum in the Buckeyes’ development right now, he knows they need to be able to sustain that throughout preseason camp and most importantly, the actual season.
“I think the maturity and the offseason that we had, the toughness of leadership is going to show, but we got to continue to practice just like that in the preseason,” Day said. “We have to have competitive stamina. We have to play really good at the beginning of the year, we've got to play really good at the end of the year.”