When even the thought something has become cliché is cliché, you know it’s said a lot.
For example, every year, players tell the media before a season they feel closer to their teammates and have better chemistry than ever before, and it’s become such a common thought that even Ohio State football players realize they’re saying it.
“I feel like I say that every year,” fullback Zach Boren said in Chicago at the Big Ten’s annual Media Days. “But this year, it’s definitely true. We’re a brotherhood this year. We’ve just come together. I can’t really explain why, I can’t put my finger on it or anything. We’re one close, tight-knit family.”
It’s easy to be skeptical – after all, just 12 months ago, Buckeye players were saying the exact same things.
But Boren and his teammates offered a few examples that show their boasts this time around just might be true. The team’s elders have hosted a number of social events, from barbecues at Boren’s house to a weekly poker game, in order to foster team unity.
So far, that seems to be exactly what has happened. Boren, defensive lineman Johnny Simon and linebacker Etienne Sabino began to play off each other when asked by media about one such get together, a poker night in which Simon emerged victorious.
“I’m surprised John didn’t talk about our poker nights,” Boren said.
“I usually win,” Simon quickly offered.
Referring to the hulking defensive lineman’s normally stoic demeanor – yes, a poker face – Boren said, “He’s hard to read.”
If the back and forth was any indication, chemistry shouldn’t be an issue going forward.
“You’re just hanging out with people that you’re not used to hanging out with and getting to know different backgrounds and things like that,” Boren said. “It’s fun. Bino and I have grown a lot closer, and it’s the same with other guys on the team. It’s just a neat process. It’s kind of sad that we’re just starting to do it now because it’s our last run. I wish we had done it earlier.”
Boren said the get-togethers have maxed out around 25 people, while Sabino noted that 10 to 15 people are usually in attendance with different players working into the group at different times.
“It was good times,” Sabino said. “It was a good mix of people, a couple of new people every time. Everybody was there. We had seniors there, freshmen and sophomores, everybody. We had a good time.”
It’s also fair to say the fun didn’t just happen around a poker table or a flaming grill, however. The teamwork extended into the weight room, where the seniors did their best to encourage players to get in extra work on top of that prescribed by director of football performance Mickey Marotti.
“We were really trying to make it a great offseason for us,” Simon said. “We were getting together, calling each other on the phone and setting workout times, or saying, ‘Let’s go do this for an hour,’ just to improve ourselves and get ready for the season.”
That teamwork continues into workouts. Simon said that some of the team’s summer runs didn’t take place until the middle of the day during what has been one of the hottest summers on record in Columbus, and that was on purpose.
“It’s only going to make us better,” Simon said. “I think after the workouts and end everyone’s just trying to fight for some water or whatever and you’re just exhausted, everyone gets that sense of pride that you just went through a tough workout together and you made it through because of that guy next to you. That’s what football is.”
There are some obvious reasons for the increased emphasis on teamwork, including a rough 2011 that started with NCAA violations, included the departure of head coach Jim Tressel and ended with the first losing campaign at Ohio State since 1988.
But out of the ashes of that 6-7 record came the hiring of new head coach Urban Meyer. The two-time national champion has said he hopes the players on his leadership committee do things like invite players in for extra workouts, and he’d likely be pleased to find out the additional social gatherings as well.
“A lot if it has to do with Coach Meyer, what he preaches,” Boren said. “He’s a family-oriented guy. I’m not saying the coaches in the past weren’t – because they were – but he wants you to follow through on things. I think we took that to heart. We’re just getting to know our teammates. They are our brothers and I think it’s really benefiting us.”