It's no secret that the most prolific kicker to ever step foot in Ohio Stadium is Mike Nugent. His bazooka of a leg and pinpoint accuracy helped power the Buckeyes to four bowls, 40 wins, and a national title. While he walked away with just one Groza award, there was no more feared kicker in all of college football from 2002-04.
He evaluated what he saw, saying, "I really liked how both of them looked, just with the whole transition – the snap, the hold, the kick. That really looks solid. They both have solid legs. They only did about one kickoff each, but they both hit the ball awesome on their kickoffs and hit the ball really well on the field goals, too."
Technically the first commitment to now head coach Jim Tressel, Nugent has been integral to the resurgence of the kicking game at Ohio State. He had a front row seat for the first kicking scrimmages in the spring of 2001 and after participating in them himself; he battled Josh Huston for the starting position that fall.
He swears by its benefits; "What's good about the kicking scrimmage is that Coach Tressel does a good job putting pressure on these guys. (It) is like practice, but it is for pride. You don't want to walk home. You know how it is when you lose – you have to walk back to the Woody Hayes. It is one of those things that I think it is good coach puts pressure on these guys."
Nugent knows all about pressure; he holds over a dozen career kicking records at Ohio State as well as the longest kick ever made in Ohio Stadium – a 55 yarder to win the game against Marshall in 2004.
However, the kicking scrimmage wasn't the only thing on his mind Thursday; talk inevitably strayed to the NFL and this year's Buckeye crop about to be harvested in the upcoming draft.
"It's an unbelievable class," he said. "I'm so excited for them because I was only a year ahead of most of these guys. I'm really proud of the guys. We don't know where they are going yet but just from speculation, they are going to get everything they deserve for as hard as they worked. I just hope for the best for all of them. Hopefully we can some on the Jets. I'm the only Ohio State guy there with about 3 or 4 Michigan guys."
While some fans and pundits may consider these athletes to live a charmed life, Nugent does not; "The funny thing is they are not lucky kids. They've worked for everything they are going to get in the next few months. I think those guys are going to deserve everything just because they have worked so hard. A.J., Bobby, and Anthony Schlegel those guys were in the weight room at like 5 o'clock every morning working as hard as they can. They really will get what they deserve."
Then again, he always knew a few of these guys were headed for the pay for play league; "(At Ohio State) you play against great teams and great players. You can tell. You can look at guys coming out and say, ‘I think A.J. is going to be a great player in the NFL.' The same with Bobby and even all the players coming out. Nick Mangold, I'm really excited to see where he goes. I'm almost as anxious as they are to see what happens for them just because I got to play with them. I really hope the best for them."
He doled out a few pearls of wisdom for the soon to be rookies; "The best advice for your first season is kind of like what I would do every year, even at Ohio State. Do what you are told. You have guys who have been to the pro bowl 5, 6, 7 years on your team. Those guys have been through a lot. They've been with a lot of different teams – or with just that one team maybe, but you just have to watch the older guys. Just like in high school and in college – you watch the older guys. They know exactly what they are doing. If you can keep up with them and reflect the things they do I think that is the best thing you can do."
Nugent is also settling in himself after an up and down first year in which he was adjusting to a new environment, new teammates, new rules, and even a new ball.
"It is a little different," he said of the football. "You can definitely tell a difference, especially kicking in New York. You have that cold weather. It's not too bad when it is warm out; it all feels the same, but when it gets to be about 30 to 25 degrees outside with that wind chill it starts getting chilly and the ball gets rock solid."
Of course New Yorkers and especially Jets fans are known for their patience – the perfect place for a young kicker to gradually mature and spread his wings…
"Not too much, no," a smiling Nugent replied. "They're not too easy, but they are like Ohio State. They realize guys are going to make mistakes, but they expect you to get back on the next one and do your job."
Meanwhile, Nugent is using the off-season to lift weights, prepare for 2006, and settle into life in his community.
"I was living in an apartment for about 7 months. I finally ended up buying a condo. I'm in the process of buying furniture and doing the painting and things like that. I had to think about it and make sure I got what I wanted."
Bobby Carpenter and the 2006 Defense
The one commonality in spring football (no matter when or where) is eternal optimism. Like hapless Cubs fans, dozens of schools, their players, coaches, and fans all believe they have a chance to win a national title. ‘We're not rebuilding, we're reloading' they say as they point to just exactly why their rivals will not measure up to the kind of juggernaut they have in their back yard.
The only problem is just one team will walk away with the ultimate prize, and even when it is shared only two can lay claim to it in today's system.
What does this mean? How does this relate to Ohio State?
There is already quite a bit of national championship talk in Columbus. It started only moments after the final gun in the Fiesta Bowl with the thrashing of Notre Dame. It has continued and even expanded with early preseason rankings that put the Buckeyes atop the heap.
Not to be a buzz kill here, but when is the last time a team lost as many defensive starters as Ohio State and won a national championship?
Asked about it, Bobby Carpenter grimaced and shook his head; "They are losing 9 starters and their whole back seven. That's definitely a tough thing to replace."
Admittedly the cupboard isn't empty in his eyes, "I've watched the linebackers, and they're not the most experienced crew, but they are definitely talented. I think in time they are going to be a special group of guys. James Laurinaitis is looking good out there, really coming along. Curtis Terry has probably made the biggest improvement of anyone I have seen. Marcus Freeman is getting the chance to live up to some of the hype he had coming in; those are three special guys. Chad Hoobler, Ross Homan, Austin Spitler – they have a lot of guys who are looking good. I'm excited to see them and see where they go with that, but experience is definitely a tough thing to replace."
Time for a reading comprehension test; did everyone catch what Carpenter said? Did you see the key word?
Carpenter, who played on a national championship team, believes this defense and the linebackers in particular can be special but only over time.
The wrench in the mechanism, gum in the works, and fly in the ointment is these Ohio State players don't have the luxury of time. Their season opens with a tough MAC opponent in Northern Illinois followed by a road game in Austin, Texas, against the defending national champions. Next is a grudge game against in state program Cincinnati, who has a roster full of players that believe the Buckeyes overlooked them coming out of high school. Then Big Ten foe Penn State visits Columbus, and finally (perhaps mercifully), September ends with another road trip to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes and Kirk Ferentz.
Given the stakes, even Tressel didn't sugarcoat his thoughts on the first month's schedule; "No. It will be brutal," he said.
Carpenter has also looked at the upcoming slate of games and is now passing on advice; "I talked to Troy and hopefully the offense will put up 35 for a while and give the defense a little bit of a learning curve. Talent is great but nothing replaces experience. I would take a less talented who had more experience in a game because when the bullets start flying out there it is tough to make calls, checks, and get everyone lined up. I think that is something that really helped our defense this year. We had a lot of three-year starters out there who had played together. They had been through the fires of the Big Ten season."
Is Tressel as concerned as Carpenter? Has he been quietly telling the offense they must carry the team to start the season?
"Oh, it's a huge concern," he admitted before adding, "but I haven't lost sleep always about what Bobby has said (laughing), but it is college football. We have to replace a lot of guys. That's part of the deal, and we will keep working at it."