When Urban Meyer took over the Ohio State football team one year ago today, he had one thing to say above all else that resonated with Buckeye fans.
“Our objective is simple,” Meyer said while addressing a packed house of media members, OSU staffers and others. “It's to make the state of Ohio proud, recruit student-athletes that will win in the classroom and win on the field.”
Three hundred and sixty-two days later, Meyer faced another packed house of cameras and scribes, this one on the third story of the southeast tower in Ohio Stadium. His Buckeyes had just completed a 12-0 season against all odds with a 26-21 victory against Michigan, a triumph that allowed Meyer to put the perfect bookend on his introductory speech.
"Obviously this is the state I grew up in,” said the coach who wore Archie Griffin's No. 45 and idolized Woody Hayes in his younger days. “This is the state I made a comment on last November, December, whenever it was, that our objective is to make the great state of Ohio proud.
“I imagine tonight there's a lot of people in this great state very proud of what their football their football team – no one else's, this is the state of Ohio's football team.
And I'm sure they're very proud.”
From Ashtabula, his hometown nestled against Lake Erie in the northeast corner of the state mere miles from Pennsylvania, to Cincinnati, the city in which he attended college; from Toledo, the place he was born that nonetheless boasts split rivalries when it comes to The Game, to the rural southeastern Ohio River towns; to Columbus, the centrally located capital of both the state and all things Buckeye, it’s hard not to imagine people are proud of Ohio State football.
Not only have the Buckeyes put together a 12-0 record – one that would have them in the thick of the national championship discussion had there been no postseason ban as part of the ruins of the scandal that led to Meyer’s hiring in the first place – the Buckeyes played exciting football and used a refuse-to-lose mentality to overcome their lack of experience in Meyer’s system and a lack of depth in key areas.
The levels of excitement ranged from the prime-time blowout of Big Ten championship favorite Nebraska in Ohio Stadium to the late comeback win vs. Purdue to the joy that comes with any win vs. Michigan, but one thing that was always constant was the Buckeyes played for something greater.
"At the beginning of the year, our goal was to win as many games as possible for the seniors,” senior defensive end Nathan Williams said after The Game. “We had to win it not only for the seniors, we had to win for the state of Ohio, we had to win for Ohio State, we had to win for all the alumni that's been a part of this. It's been such a great year, and it would have been terrible to go out with a loss in your last game. I think we all knew we had to win this game to make our legacy known."
Meyer also preached about the Ohio State football family, and that started to be built in January when the team’s strength and conditioning staff went about breaking down the players in order to build them back up as a unit.
By the time the season started, the changes were drastic. Meyer spoke of how he wasn’t sure at first if a number of veterans – most of the team’s offensive line, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton and tailbacks Carlos Hyde and Roderick Smith, to name a few – were going to make it in his program. By the end of the year, those players were keys to Buckeye success.
Then there was the praise he heaped on Johnny Simon, the heart and soul of the team in Meyer’s words, and the selflessness of senior Zach Boren, whose concept of team developed so much in a year that he moved from fullback to linebacker midway through the season.
“I've never been on a team quite like this, anywhere from freshmen to seniors, any guy would take a bullet for any person in that locker room,” Boren said. “That's the crazy thing is this team is so close that you would do anything for one another. There's not many teams like that. I think that's what made this team special, and I think that's what made us perfect."
The family metaphor extended further off the field. Each Thursday, the team hosted a family night dinner in which the coaches and others could bring in their families, and Meyer – notoriously out of touch with his family as he worked himself to the point of illness at Florida – made sure to live up to his deal to stay close with his.
From the now-famous pink contract he signed with his daughter Nicki to his trip to his eldest daughter’s volleyball Senior Day to the fact that children Nicki, Gigi and Nate were all on hand for Michigan Week festivities, Meyer made family a focus of his life this season.
“Every Sunday I busted out of here at noon and went and watched my son play football,” Meyer said. “That would have never happened (at previous stops). I got two red light tickets. It was the camera things. I let guys use my car and I thought one got a ticket and didn’t tell me about it, then I look at it and it’s a Sunday at 12:30.
“I was 15 minutes late and getting texts from my wife (Shelley) saying, ‘You’d better get here,’ so I ran a red light. That’s 50 bucks, but it was worth it.
“Great story, isn’t it?”
Almost as good as the one about the Ohio native who returns to his state and leads the football program from its worst season in more than a century to an undefeated campaign, all in the span of 366 days.
“It’s great to be back home,” Meyer said last Nov. 28.
One year later, the state of Ohio can’t help but agree.