By the time the final seconds have ticked off Ohio State’s game against Michigan on Nov. 22, the Buckeye senior class will have effectively lost its marbles.
That is not just a metaphor for how the Buckeyes will feel when they have completed what looks to be a grueling schedule complete with road games at both USC and Wisconsin. Rather, it will be a symbol for head coach Jim Tressel that his seniors have dedicated themselves to helping the program as much as they possibly can in their final go-round as college football players.
It all began during the week before OSU hosted Youngstown State to kick off the 2008 season. Each of the team’s 27 seniors was given a gift that, piece by piece, will be returned to Tressel.
Encased in a small, glass box that is no more than a few inches wide and a few inches tall are 12 marbles – One marble for each game left in each Buckeye’s career.
Each Friday, the team’s seniors return one of the marbles to Tressel. Some do it as a group, while others like cornerback Shaun Lane prefer to go it alone.
“It’s just a way to put your time here in perspective,” he said. “Each week, that little container he gave us gets a little smaller. It’s like an hourglass.”
The marbles are not just any ordinary marbles, however. According to linebacker Marcus Freeman, they are color coordinated. Six are gray, perhaps symbolizing home games this season at Ohio Stadium. Five are scarlet, the same number of away games on the docket.
One is blue, symbolizing the game that is always most important on the OSU schedule: the season-ending showdown with rival Michigan.
“All year we’ve been talking about ‘cherish each moment, cherish each game, don’t look at next year, don’t look at next game,’ ” Freeman said. “We talk about having 12 opportunities. We’re not looking at a bowl game. We’re not looking at anything after the Michigan game”
Each player keeps his marbles in a secure place. Both kicker Ryan Pretorius and defensive lineman Nader Abdallah keep theirs in their lockers and look at them from time to time as reminders of what they are working for.
“He’s trying to remind us this is the last year for us and we have to give it all we’ve got,” Abdallah said. “It reminds us every week that we don’t have much longer left. I take a look at them every once in a while to make sure I keep my mind focused.”
Each glass case features the player’s name, number and the letters “OSU” and was made by Ellen Tressel, the head coach’s wife, according to Lane.
But the story does not end with the marbles. When each player gives them to Tressel, the head coach puts them in a blue vase he is keeping in his office. That vase goes along with a story the head coach told his players during fall camp about taking care of business.
According to Lane, the story involves a boss and a one-legged employee. The boss, after having seen several employees fail at attempting to bring him a requested blue vase, decides to send the one-legged man.
The man’s response is simple: “It will get done and I will do it,” Lane said.
Although the man then faced several obstacles throughout his journey, each more perilous than the last, he found a way to get the job done and brought the blue vase to his employer. The moral of the story has not been lost on the Buckeyes.
“After all the things the guy put him through, he ended up getting the vase to him,” Lane said. “When you put your marble in the vase, that’s the commitment that you’re making to the team: Whatever your job is, you will do it.”
If the Buckeyes do their jobs, they could find themselves in a special place when that game against the Wolverines comes to a close. By then, the seniors will have an empty case to remember the year with.
But according to Nicol, if everything goes according to plan the seniors will not have used their marbles wisely in the hopes of regaining them -- metaphorically, at least.
“Then hopefully we’ll have a chance to play for all of them,” he said with a grin.