Ohio State’s football players are in a brave new world after the May 30 resignation of head coach Jim Tressel, but the full impact of the coach’s departure might not sink in fully around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for another few weeks.
That’s because during the summer months, on-field coaching is prohibited, leaving the head coach and members of the staff a bit out of the loop. They can be around the practice facility, as new head man Luke Fickell was for much of the summer, but about all they can do is chit-chat with players until fall camp begins in August.
As a result, Tressel’s departure, while traumatic at the time it happened, has sort of faded into the background a bit thanks to the fact there has been no on-field work completed in the meantime.
“In the offseason, you really didn’t see him too much,” tight end Jacob Stoneburner said. “We’ve just been working out and doing summer school. I’m sure we’ll notice a difference during camp. It’s kind of different, him not being here. It was hard when it all happened, but now we’re Team Fickell.”
If anything, senior defensive back Nate Oliver said, the situation with Tressel can serve as a motivator as the team goes through the summer months.
“Obviously, whenever you have someone who you care about, someone you love, someone you’d go to bat for any day, resign or have to leave or anything like that, it hurts,” Oliver said. “It hurt for a while and it still does hurt, but you always remember it and you always work hard and you always keep them in your memory. It gives you an extra burst and makes you want to work harder for that person.”
Ohio State’s response to the NCAA that was completed July 8 left much of the burden for the scandal – started when six players were served suspensions for the start of 2011 for selling OSU memorabilia and accepting tattoo discounts – on Tressel, who did not share that he had received a tip about the infractions before the 2010 season.
As a result, OSU chose to vacate the 12 wins, including the Sugar Bowl win, from the year, but senior center Michael Brewster said in June that the Buckeye players didn’t retain any ill will toward their former coach.
“I wouldn’t say I was disappointed (in his actions) or anything like that,” the Florida native said. “I was just more hurt about the way he had to go out because he was such a great guy, a great coach. He did so many great things for this university and the people at this university and the state of Ohio. It was unreal. It really did hurt. It just hurts you in your heart.”
Tressel was generally beloved by former players – many of whom spoke in his defense after his resignation – and the current players also noted it was tough to not have someone around they had become close to over the past years.
“He was definitely a great coach,” safety Orhian Johnson said. “He was a guy that recruited me. It feels weird, but I know he did what was best for the program.”
As a general rule Ohio State players aren’t allowed to talk about recruits the Buckeye coaches are looking at until they sign, but they are allowed to talk in general terms about the process.
They’re also allowed to defend their university, which Stoneburner decided to do when asked about his general reaction should a prospect or two decommit from OSU in the wake of Tressel’s ouster. That five-star offensive tackle Kyle Kalis had flipped from the Buckeyes to Michigan in the days before the interview was pure coincidence, surely, but Stoneburner didn’t mince words about the situation.
"We're always going to be Ohio State and we're always going to be one of the greatest schools around in this country,” Stoneburner said. “If guys don't want to come here and be a part of this, I feel like that's their loss. They can go to other schools and try to experience stuff, but there's no better school than here. If you don't want to come here, I feel like you're missing out. I'm sorry for those guys going other places, but we're going to keep on winning and keep on doing this."
Both fullback Zach Boren and right tackle J.B. Shugarts said they hadn’t been following OSU’s recruiting efforts that closely and couldn’t comment on the situation, but Boren did try to add some perspective.
“We just hope in the end they’ll come back around, or we wish them the best,” he said. “Recruiting is hard. It’s a life decision. If you don’t feel comfortable, then don’t come.”
Looking for an under-the-radar player with star potential in the Ohio State offense in 2011? So is Boren.
“No idea,” he said with a laugh. “That’s the million dollar question.”
Well, what about the fullback coming back for a third year as a starter? After all, he’s been a dependable blocker ever since getting the knack for the position halfway through his freshman season of 2009, and he even has 14 catches including a touchdown over the past two seasons, a veritable offensive explosion for fullbacks under Tressel.
“You guys can campaign for me,” Boren said to the media with another laugh. “I can’t, but you guys can.”
Still, the fullback has lofty goals. On a simple level, he wants to get better every game. On a deeper one, a little more recognition wouldn’t be bad, either.
“I don’t know the last time a fullback made All-Big Ten, but All-Big Ten would be nice,” he said. “Obviously All-America and everything would be nice, but basically I just want to be a team player. My biggest goal is just to be a captain this year and next year. That’s basically the big one.”
Just One Boren
While Zach goes into his third year at OSU, he’s the only Boren on the roster, at least for 2011.
The last two years, Zach shared a starting role on offense with brother Justin, an All-Big Ten left guard. Next year, offensive lineman Jacoby will join the squad as a class of 2012 recruit.
So for now, it’s just Zach while Justin and Jacoby sit around the family’s house in nearby Pickerington. Of course, that’s not what Justin had hoped for; he’d rather be working out with an NFL team, but the summer lockout – which is now showing signs of lifting – dulled those plans.
“He’s been working out and just waiting for the lockout to end,” Zach said of his brother’s situation. “Nothing has really been going on. You obviously want him to get drafted, especially with the lockout. But he has a chip on his shoulder to show what he can do at the next level.”
Justin first arrived at OSU after a coaching chance at Michigan led to his transfer. However, Zach said Jacoby – who he is allowed to comment on considering their relationship – won’t be following the same path after Tressel’s ouster.
“He’s on board,” Zach said. “He’s all in. He’s excited to get here in January.”
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