Forty minutes into their first strength-and-conditioning session at Ohio State, the newest members of the football team thought they were almost finished.
Then they heard a word that made them realize they weren’t in high school anymore.
“They said, ‘We’re almost done with the warmup,’ and we were just looking at each other like …” freshman linebacker Baron Browning said Wednesday.
Browning didn’t finish the sentence. He didn’t need to. They instantly understood that the workouts conducted by strength coach Mickey Marotti and his staff would require them to summon new resolve.
“Every day has been hard,” Browning said. “In high school, we might have had one or two hard workouts, and then you’d have a day that you might lollygag and get through. But every workout (here) has been hard. You really have to take it one day at a time.”
Browning is one of several five-star newcomers, many of whom are expected to play significant roles in the 2017 season. The Buckeyes have lost 15 underclassmen to the NFL after the past two seasons. Opportunities are available. But that means there’s no time for dipping toes into the water. These Buckeyes are being thrown in the deep end.
“We pushed them further this year,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We pushed them earlier. This is a very mature group. You can’t take a young person who’s underdeveloped and not very mature and just throw them to the wolves, to the Billy Prices and Jalyn Holmeses of the world.”
Meyer singled out cornerback Jeffrey Okudah as one of the freshmen he thinks is ready. Okudah said he arrived with no notions about what to expect from the Buckeyes’ workouts.
“I tried to have an open mind, but they’re still pretty intense,” he said. “I’m not used to doing a 40-minute warmup before actually we start the real workout. I’m trying to figure out when the warmup stops and the workout starts.”
As physically demanding as the workouts are, getting the body prepared for the rigors of college football is only part of the task. Browning said the mind has to be trained as well.
“That’s what I feel the majority of our workouts are about,” he said. “They’re testing you mentally to see where you’re at. Our workouts are hard, but it’s more of a mental thing just to keep pushing, like, ‘Do I really want to do this? I have one more rep. Do I really want to finish this rep?’ That’s what it really comes down to, in my opinion.”
Meyer raves about his newest players, for their ability and their character.
“I know these players very well,” he said. “We are fired up about this class. This could go down as one of those great classes.”
Many are comparing this recruiting class to the 2013 one that’s produced Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and others. If that proves accurate, these difficult early days will be the foundation.
“Me, Baron and Tate are roommates,” Okudah said, referring to quarterback Tate Martell. “We’re always talking about being ready to work. We don’t want anything handed to us. We know what the expectations are. We know the bar has been set high, and we’re ready to work for it. No handouts. That’s our little motto.”