Ohio State can’t play to win the Big Ten football championship this season, so instead the Buckeyes might just try to win everything else.
Every practice. Every lift. Every drill. Every sprint. Everything. Everyday.
Head coach Urban Meyer has come to believe that type of competitiveness is necessary to succeed in college football these days, a conclusion he came to during his 11 months away from coaching.
While working as an analyst for ESPN, Meyer got the chance to observe programs around the country and came away convinced the type of athlete on the field and style of offense or defense the team played had less to do with being successful than simply possessing the will to win.
“It was the competitive nature of the program, the competitive nature of the athletes on the team,” Meyer said. “The great ones that I see going on to the National Football League were doing the same thing they did in college. It's amazing. They did the same thing in high school. They're competitors.”
For examples, he brought up running back Brionte Dunn and defensive end Adolphus Washington, both five-star prospects from Ohio.
Meyer admired the way Dunn handled himself in big games such as showdowns with Stark County rival Massillon Washington and crosstown nemesis McKinley. The 6-2, 220-pounder ran up 249 yards against the Tigers before gutting out 77 tough yards despite a painful hip injury against the Bulldogs.
“That’s real,” Meyer said. “What sold me on him – other than the fact he comes from a great family, is a great-looking guy – is he didn’t tap out in the big games. How do they perform in a rivalry or state championship, state playoff game? That’s usually an indicator of a high-end competitor.”
For Washington, the stage was indoors. Meyer liked what he saw from the 6-5, 245-pound defensive end on the basketball court, where he averages around 20 points and 14 rebounds per game this season after sharing the Division III state player of the year award last season.
“Very impressive,” Meyer said. “I don't know how he shoots, I don't really care. I just watched the way he plays, bangs, moves guys around. I like to see a guy's face. He's very upset when it doesn't go his way.”
Judging an intangible trait can be challenging, but Meyer indicated a coach must be willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to do so.
“Without question that’s the No. 1 thing we look for, that I look for,” he said. “If he’s a track guy, is he a guy that's always competing, if he runs a 10.5, try to run a 10.4. The best evaluation is cornering that coach. You get about six inches from that coach's face and say, ‘Tell me about this guy,’ when there’s no other nonsense in the room.
“I notice a lot of pro scouts, pro head coaches, pro assistant coaches, the really good ones, that's all they want to know. At the end of the day, will that kid compete at the highest level, do what it takes to win a game.”
From the sounds of it, Meyer’s message should be well received by some of his leaders when he gets to the task of coaching his first Ohio State team this spring.
When reporters spoke to Zach Boren in December shortly after Meyer’s hiring, the rising senior fullback admitted not knowing much about his new head coach yet, but he was clear in what he wanted to see once he got the chance.
“The first thing I want to know is if they are going to push us,” Boren said. “I want someone who’s going to push us to the fullest and make us the best players we can possibly be because that’s what we need. We have the best athletes in the country here at Ohio State and if these guys are pushing us and expecting the most and the best out of us then we’re going to be doing great things.”
Meyer mostly kept away from the team as it closed out that month preparing for the Gator Bowl, but it came as no surprise in January when he named Boren one of the returning Buckeyes to have already impressed him.
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