When the play call came in, and Dwayne Haskins Jr. was asked to make that now-famous pass to Austin Mack last year against Michigan, his teammates weren’t worried.
Sure, Haskins had been thrust into action as a freshman replacing the injured J.T. Barrett with Ohio State’s season on the line.
But the Buckeyes knew he had the arm to laser the ball between defenders. More important, they knew he had been trained to attempt it. Ohio State players believe that they are so inured to pressure that they don’t blink when asked to perform, no matter how tense the circumstances.
“Every player at Ohio State is trained for moments like that,” offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said this week at Big Ten media days in Chicago. “We don’t get nervous.”
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That training starts the day players arrive on campus. Strength coach Mickey Marotti’s weight-room sessions are known for their intensity. More than one player has said that he was stunned on his first day of workouts to learn that the first 45-minute period was only the warmup, not the workout itself.
The summer conditioning is no picnic, either.
“When we were running this summertime, it’s hot, you can’t breathe,” Prince said. “You think you’re going to pass out. But in your mind, you have to be tough enough to know that you’re going to be all right.”
That training will enter a new phase on Friday when the Buckeyes open preseason camp.
“It’s going to be hard,” defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones said in Chicago. “Ohio State football — much is given, much is earned. They expect a lot of us. I don’t expect there to be an easy day of camp.”
From a physical standpoint, camp these days isn’t quite as grueling as in the years when two-a-days were the standard. Ohio State will be on the practice field only once a day. But meetings and strength training will make for long days.
“My mental state is totally changed because I’m older and have been through it,” said Jones, a fourth-year junior. “But speaking to a person who hasn’t been through it, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be one of the hardest things you’ve done in your life.
“You’re playing football from 6 a.m. to 8 at night. Everything is football for three weeks. Everything is going to be physically and mentally draining for you, but you have to find a way to let yourself go and lock in.”
Camp is for sorting out the depth chart and perfecting plays. It also is about strengthening the culture of accountability and forcing players to become ready for the moments that Haskins faced in Ann Arbor.
“Our coaches really take pride in putting us in adverse situations when we’re not in the game, whether it’s in the weight room, on the practice field or even in the classroom,” receiver Parris Campbell said. “They try to make things so hard that you’re used to it in when you’re in the game. It’s not your first time seeing adversity.”
But there is no way to simulate the pressure of having to rally a team against its archrival in front of 107,000 hostile fans at Michigan Stadium.
“You can’t emulate that, but you can come close with a Coach Mick workout, for sure,” Campbell said. “It’s second to none. They make it so hard that when you get to a game and experience adversity, you know how to bounce back.”
That’s what Haskins and the Buckeyes did at the Big House, and why they feel confident they can navigate the challenges that await them in 2018.
“We are mentally and physically prepared for moments like that,” Prince said. “In my opinion, practices are 10 times harder than the games. To me, if you can do it in practice on a consistent basis, you should have no problem doing it in games.”