Drew Basil arrived in the training room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center at 8:30 a.m., an hour and a half before the bus was supposed to leave for Ohio Stadium for today’s student-filled open practice.
That he was there so early was a testament to how excited Basil was to perform in front of as many members of the student body who were willing to get up at 10:45 in the morning and head over to the Horseshoe.
But when rain and storms hit the Columbus area Saturday morning, Basil had no idea what would be in store when the practice moved to the indoor field at the WHAC.
About 70 percent of the way through the proceedings, with fans spread out from bleachers behind the goal line all the way to the 20-yard line on one side of the WHAC field, Basil was instructed to kick a field goal over the fans to the goal post painted on the curtain behind the bleachers.
After the first one went through, head coach Urban Meyer had an idea. He instructed the fans in attendance to surround the field goal units as Basil attempted a string of kicks of around 35 yards. On top of that, the head coach jumped up and down in the middle of the ring, inciting the fans to create an atmosphere unlike any other seen in recent years at the WHAC.
“It was pretty awesome,” Basil said. “It was awesome knowing everyone around you is Ohio State people yelling for you. I don’t know if they were yelling for me or against me, but I just thought it was for me.”
By the end of the day, there was no doubt there were connections made between team members and the fans – many members of the student body – who showed up for the practice. Ohio State estimated around 3,000 people crammed into the WHAC field, and they were treated to a fun show.
Not only did Ohio State go through a practice with more scrimmaging – including battles between the top offense and defense – than usual. Afterward, there was a meet-and-greet between coaches, players and fans capped with a photograph of the groups taken from the top of the WHAC.
“I think it’s great for everybody,” receivers coach Zach Smith said after the practice was over. “Coaches, players, but more importantly the student body. I think the student body is probably one of the most important assets for a program just because of the support they provide the team. At the same time, it’s good for the team to get around students because that’s what they are.
“It’s twofold: I think it’s a benefit for the students and fans and it’s a benefit for our kids and coaches to get around them. At times you’re in your own world, like you’re locked in the Woody Hayes and going, going, going and you kind of lose the magnitude of what it is. Then you let all these fans in here and it hits you.”
Basil’s field goal exploits might have been the most memorable part of the proceedings. After making the first kick, Basil had one blocked by Johnathan Hankins and missed one to the left before making his last four tries.
“I thought it was awesome just to see that whole end zone packed all the way out to the 20-yard line,” he said. “That was just incredible. I’ve never seen that many people in the Woody at once. This is the best atmosphere ever.”
As for whether he was worried about pegging any fans with a wayward kick, Basil just had to laugh.
“Not, not at all,” he said. “If I was out there golfing it would be a whole different story.”
The idea was created by Meyer to raise some buzz and announced during the week. Meyer said he visited each student organization when he first got to Florida, something he couldn’t do at Ohio State because of the size of the university. The open practice was a fun alternative.
"We're reaching out to the students," he said. "We're all here and sometimes we keep forgetting what this is all about. It's about student-athletes and it's about the student body and making the collegiate experience a positive thing. So what's every student want? They want ownership and access."
The setting also showed just how excited students are for the Meyer era.
“I feel like everybody is really excited,” Basil said. “I know I’d be sleeping. To have all these students come out here and spend time with us showing they’re excited, it’s pretty awesome.”
“That’s what makes it different from the NFL and every other level,” Smith added. “You do it for the students and the fans. It’s awesome.”
Extra photos from today's proceedings: