With the Ohio State football opener with Cincinnati just nine days away, Jim Tressel found a way to cram three week’s worth of news into one 20-minute press conference Thursday.
OSU captains (l-r) Lydell Ross, Dustin Fox, Simon Fraser, Mike Nugent
In that short amount of time, Tressel announced that:
* Seniors Simon Fraser, Dustin Fox, Mike Nugent and Lydell Ross had been selected by their teammates as team captains for 2004.
* Sophomore Justin Zwick had edged out classmate Troy Smith for the right to start the season opener against Cincinnati, although the coach also announced that Smith would play in that game.
* Senior walk-ons John McLaughlin, Kyle Turano, Roshawn Parker and Michael DeMaria had been converted to scholarship status for their final season.
* If there was a game today that Turano would likely be the starting punter, in somewhat of an upset, over fifth-year senior Josh Huston. However, the team will hold its kick scrimmage Friday and things could change.
* And that redshirt freshman receiver Devin Jordan has been lost for the year due to a leg injury suffered on Tuesday of this week.
We will discuss each of these compelling items and more below.
The captains choices seemed fairly obvious and Tressel was pleased with the team’s selections.
“I happen to think it’s awesome,” Tressel said. “Mike Nugent is extraordinary at what he does, but he is also one of those guys -- he’s a football player. Sometimes specialists get accused of being something else, but he’s not. He’s in that weight room, he’s running, he’s doing whatever he needs to do. He’ll be a great leader there.
“Defensively, it was very clear cut in the voting that our team wanted Dustin and Simon to lead them and I think they’ll do a tremendous job there. And it was very clear cut on the offensive side that our team wanted Lydell Ross to lead them. I think they’re all thrilled. They’re all pretty humble guys. I think they feel the responsibility. You could tell as they were given that word that they had been selected, that’s pretty special to be picked by your teammates and I think they did a good job.”
Fox, a product of Canton GlenOak, first started as a true freshman in the Outback Bowl and has been a mainstay at cornerback since then. He is expected to compete for Big Ten postseason honors this season.
“I’m excited,” Fox said. “Even though I’m one only two senior starters on defense, it’s still a surprise. It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s something I grew up wanting to be. It’s been a dream of mine since I’ve been here, seeing the guys who were captains in the past.”
Fraser will be a two-year starter at defensive end and has seen significant playing time since he arrived out of Upper Arlington. He was rated as Ohio's No. 1 prospect by Ohio's Future Stars (now Ohio High) during his senior year at Upper Arlington.
“It’s huge,” Fraser said. “Being able to earn the respect of the team and to be voted as a captain is huge. To be able to lead this team along with Dustin and Nuge and Lydell, it’s a huge honor. I don’t think much is going to change. As I told the team out there, we’re all leaders out here.”
Nugent signed out of Centerville High School in 2001 and has emerged as one of Ohio State's all-time top kickers. He has scored 254 points in his career. The 2002 All-American and Groza Award finalist will be a contender for national honors this year.
“To be honest, I just feel honored to be named with the rest of these guys, Dustin, Lydell and Simon,” Nugent said. “We’re going to do the best we can to represent this team. I didn’t have any expectations. I thought it could happen. I expect a lot out of myself now. We want to do a good job for these guys.”
Ross arrived in 2001 out of Gaither High School in Tampa, Fla., and made his presence known quickly. After choosing Ohio State late in the process over Notre Dame, Florida, and several other schools, Ross solidified himself as the No. 2 running back as a true freshman. In his career so far, Ross has rushed for 1,844 yards and 22 touchdowns and appears set for a big senior season.
“I’m happy that my teammates have the confidence in me that I can help lead this team,” Ross said. “It’s an honor. I’ve seen captains come through here during the four years I’ve been here and it’s very prestigious. I’m happy my teammates think that much about me.”
Ross discussed leading the team on the field for the season opener.
“I’m going to be pumped,” he said. “I’ve waited four years to get there. It’s been one of my goals to be captain.”
When asked if the Buckeyes were ready for the opener, he replied, “Yes, we’ve been ready. We’re ready to get on that field and hit somebody we have not been used to hitting.”
Zwick and Smith were available for interviews with the media as was quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels, although none of them had any inclination that Tressel had settled on Zwick as the starter.
Once they departed, Tressel came into the atrium at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and told reporters that he planned to start Zwick in the opener. He also announced that Smith would play during the course of that game as well.
Tressel said he came to that conclusion after grading the 177-play jersey scrimmage last Saturday.
“Some guys did some things well and some guys need work on some other things,” he said. “It seems to be the right thing to do right now, to keep on working. We need to keep giving guys opportunities to emerge. I guess the best thing to say is that no one has fallen off, than saying that someone has taken over.
“This is Thursday, the 26th. You asked what our plans would be for Saturday. That’s what our plans would be.”
Tressel discussed how Zwick has been able to emerge.
“He’s become more and more comfortable with the little things,” he said. “He’s doing a good job at the line of scrimmage. He’s doing a good job of understanding what the opponent is trying to do to us, not that Troy isn’t. I think they both have shown they deserve to have opportunities. But I think Justin has become more and more comfortable with each chance he gets.”
He was asked if there would be a plan for Smith to sub in.
“I’m sure you’d have to say it’s determined by how the game goes,” he said. “We’ll go in with a typical first game package and give the guys an opportunity to play fast. Troy will play, as I sit here today. I hope he has a good week.”
Tressel said he likes what he has seen of the quarterbacks when they have been live in scrimmage situations.
“The one thing that is apparent to me is they play a little better when they don’t have those black jerseys on,” he said. “They are a little less hesitant. I’ve never been a big fan of the black jersey and the hands off the quarterback. I’m encouraged that they play a little bit better with those off.”
The coach was asked how he expects Smith to react to being the backup, at least to open the season.
“I think Justin, Troy and Todd (Boeckman) all know that only one guy can have his hands under center,” Tressel said. “That’s one of those realities to quarterback play. I hope his focus isn’t on that. I hope his competitiveness makes him disappointed, but I hope his focus is on him doing the things we need him to do so he can be the quarterback we need to lead this team.”
The New Scholarship Players
Tressel’s announcement on these players:
“I made the announcement last night to the Buckeye Boosters,” he said. “The four seniors who have been with us four or five years that we have chosen to award scholarships to are Mike DeMaria, Roshawn Parker, John McLaughlin and Kyle Turano.
“They’ve worked hard. Some of them have worked themselves into some playing opportunities. Some have provided our team with great roles.”
The Redgie Arden Situation
Tressel was asked about when he expects Redgie Arden, hospitalized following a melee outside a Huntington, W.Va., bar last Saturday, to return to the team.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I know he’s got some doctor’s medical issues. But beyond that I know that’s early next week, having talked to the family. Beyond that, I’m not sure. I know he won’t be back ready to play for a while.”
Tressel was asked about his reported telephone conversation with Marshall coach Bob Pruett.
“There’s no coaches that like things like that happening,” Tressel said. “Coach Pruett is as disappointed about it as I am, as every coach that has young men involved in those things would be. He’s doing what he needs to do down there to find out what is the story and to aid the legal process any way he can.”
Tressel was asked if any team discipline is expected for Arden, who had two previous DUI arrests.
“There was no question he was not where and when he should have been,” the coach said. “But does that throw guilt on him as if he was a culprit or something like that. I don’t know if I can say that. But he was definitely not where he should have been. Was that the wrong thing for our team? Yes.”
Tressel discussed Jordan’s season-ending injury.
“That happened Tuesday afternoon,” he said. “He was just out in the open field and he was blocking and someone fell in behind him and (he broke) one of the small bones in his lower leg. That’s a shame. I thought he was really coming along. I thought he made a couple plays (in the scrimmage) and was starting to feel comfortable. It’s disappointing when that happens. He’ll be out for the year.
“(Walk-on lineman) Danny Dye, we lost to a knee. He had surgery. He is a reserve lineman. Outside of that, we did not have any season ending injuries. Branden Joe, we expect him to be back in a week or two. He has a high ankle sprain. I hope he’s back real soon.”
Tressel said he didn’t know exactly when DE Mike Kudla (neck strain) would return to full-go.
* LB Curt Lukens intercepted a pass in the rehearsal scrimmage and returned it for a touchdown.
* After Friday’s kick scrimmage, the team will gear down over the weekend before beginning game week preparations for Cincinnati.
“It’s important to get away,” Tressel said. “I think you have to take a deep breath and think. The coaches have been here night and day. You just have to relax. It’s easy to say get away from football. I think that’s healthy.”
* Tressel was asked if the punting job was still “up in the air.”
“Yeah, but I hope it gets higher, though,” he joked.
“If we had to punt right now -- I’m going to punt and get out of here -- I think I’d punt Turano right now,” Tressel said.
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