Joshua Chamberlain was one of the most decorated Union veterans in the Civil War. He’s been portrayed by Jeff Daniels, profiled by Ken Burns and memorialized in statue in his home state of Maine.
Now, he’s one of the inspirations for the 2011 Ohio State football team.
When Luke Fickell took over as Ohio State head coach, he made it clear what he expected of his team when he first met with the media in mid-June.
“Let me be clear to you guys: The 2011 Buckeyes will not be about comparing and contrasting what we’ve done before but what we believe we will need to do to move forward,” he said. “It will be about respect, toughness and being men of action.”
While the first two of Fickell’s three pillars sound a bit like coachspeak, the third line was inspired by Chamberlain.
Fickell came in contact with Chamberlain’s story in the Andy Andrews book “The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success.” The book uses historical figures in each chapter to illustrate life lessons for readers.
In a chapter titled “I Am a Person of Action,” Andrews profiles how Chamberlain went from a college professor in his home state to a decorated officer who played a pivotal role in the Battle of Gettysburg simply by acting on his principles and doing what he felt was right.
“The biggest thing he said was you need to make decisions and you need to make them now,” Fickell said. “I thought it kind of rang to me when he said that it was one of those things he said, ‘You’ll never find a bullet in my back because I’ll never retreat.’
“That was something that always stuck to me, and in our situation it was kind of fitting that we read that.”
Fickell suggested to then-head coach Jim Tressel that the team read the book during spring practice as it struggled with looming NCAA penalties to a number of high-profile players as well as Tressel. The nine chapters were split up among position groups, with each group giving a presentation to the rest of the team on the chapter they had read.
However, the one about being men of action, in Fickell’s words, stood out and was thus assigned to Fickell's charges at linebacker. The slogan is now featured on the team television message boards in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and is featured in promotional materials underneath the school’s long-term athletics slogan of “The People. The Tradition. The Excellence.”
“With everything that has kind of happened the way it has, you can fall back on, ‘What do you think you need to be successful, who are you and what are you going to be about?’ ” Fickell said when asked what the book meant to him. “Those kinds of things rang true to me.”
The slogan and book have been met by rave reviews on the team.
“Being men of action is just choosing when there’s a choice of not doing anything and doing something, you always choose to do something,” senior linebacker Nate Oliver said. “It’s a good motto to live by.”
The words ring particularly true for sophomore Jordan Whiting. The linebacker is one of five remaining Ohio State players suspended in the 2011 season for his role in the tattoo and memorabilia scandal that eventually led to Tressel’s ouster.
Whiting, who got a one-game suspension for accepting discounted tattoos, said the book had a profound effect on him.
“That was probably one of the greatest books I’ve ever read,” he said. “Honestly, it’s a book that related to us with all the adversity that we were going through, and me being a part of that situation, it gave you an opportunity to think and reevaluate yourself.
“You speak by your actions instead of speaking with words, and the best thing about Coach Fickell is he’s a man of few words. He’s bringing that on with the team, and that’s one of the great things we can be right now is being men of few words.”
Whiting added that the book helped him move on from the situation.
“One of the biggest chapters is, ‘The Buck Stops Here,’ ” he said. “It talks about how instead of blaming someone else about a situation, instead of saying, ‘Why me?’ saying, ‘Why not me?’ That’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from the situation, especially with everything that was going on. At the time I thought it was something innocent going on as far as accepting the discount.
“It was one of those situations where I realized that the buck stops here, so I took responsibility, dealt with what I had to deal with, took the consequences and moved on.”
For the rest of the squad, the phrase men of action will simply be a rallying cry as the 2011 season gets under way next week.
“It’s definitely a good slogan,” fullback Zach Boren said. “I’ve always thought you do your talking on the field, and we’re more than excited to come out and compete.”