Urban Meyer watched the first round of the NFL draft like a proud father.
He wishes he could have been with Chase Young, Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette as they celebrated their selection as first-round NFL draft picks Thursday night. After former Buckeye Joe Burrow was the first overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, Young went No. 2 to Washington and Okudah No. 3 to Detroit. Arnette was a surprise first-rounder, going to the Las Vegas Raiders at No. 19.
Meyer couldn’t be with his former players. He remains in Florida because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s no central draft location to attend, anyway.
But his heart was with them. These were the last group of Ohio State players who will have played a majority of their careers under Meyer, who was succeeded last season by Ryan Day.
"That’s what I miss the most — not being there with them and giving them a big hug," Meyer told The Dispatch on Friday before the draft’s second and third rounds. "It’s a life change. It’s going to impact their families for a long time.
"It’s also a reward for incredibly hard work."
Meyer emphasized the work. It goes without saying that no one becomes a first-round draft pick without putting in effort. But what does that really mean at Ohio State?
"My goal and part of our culture is to embrace the discomfort," said Meyer, now an assistant athletic director at OSU. "And for those people that don’t like the discomfort of hard work … greatness is very hard."
It’s a given that Ohio State annually attracts elite recruits. But Meyer believes their development by assistant coaches and strength coach Mickey Marotti as well as the off-field development led by assistant athletic director for player development Ryan Stamper shouldn’t be discounted.
At the core of everything, though, is the work.
"There’s a saying we had that’s called the edge, and the edge is where average stops and elite begins," Meyer said, adding that it’s the point when the mind must be trained to take over because the body wants to shut down.
"How do muscles grow? How does the mind grow?" Meyer said. "It’s pushing past the edge of pain, pushing past the edge of fatigue. That’s greatness. A lot of people don’t understand that.
"We’re upfront in recruiting. The hard work isn’t for everybody, to the point where at times it’s miserable hard work. But you go ask those players and you see the culture at Ohio State. Hard work is part of life at Ohio State."
Meyer was as competitive in recruiting as he was on the field, and Young and Okudah were five-star prospects who were expected to become top draft picks.
"Well, there’s plenty of five-star guys you never hear from again," Meyer said. "It’s either a result of them not being pushed or them not pushing."
Still, talent does matter, and Meyer saw it early in Young and Okudah.
"Chase Young you kind of knew was one of the best in America coming out of high school," Meyer said.
But on a unit that included defensive linemen Nick Bosa, Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes, Young as a freshman had to bide his time. Sprained ankles limited him as a sophomore.
"So you never really got the full feel of what Chase could do," Meyer said. "Then this year, he stayed healthy and became one of the most dominant players in recent history."
The paths for the first-round cornerbacks were quite different. In only Okudah’s second practice at Ohio State, Meyer said he looked at Marotti and both believed that quickly the freshman would be a first-rounder.
"You just knew it, because he had it all," Meyer said. "He was a brilliant young man, a competitor and God-gifted."
But it wasn’t easy for Okudah. His mother, Marie, died of lymphoma just a week after his arrival in January 2017 as an early enrollee.
"The guy who doesn’t get enough credit for (helping Okudah) is Greg Schiano," Meyer said, referring to OSU’s former defensive coordinator, now Rutgers’ head coach. "He was our point recruiter with him. And they were very close. She fought and throughout that fall (it was clear) she wasn’t going to be with us for much longer.
"We were convinced that once his mom knew he was in a good, safe place, that was all she needed to know. I think there’s some truth to that."
Young and Okudah needed only three years to become ready for the NFL. It took Arnette five.
"A very talented guy that loved football," Meyer said. "But with other things he was very immature."
He said that Arnette’s parents, family friend Cris Carter and assistant coach Kerry Coombs all worked to straighten him out.
"Kerry Coombs, part of the gray hairs on his head are from Damon Arnette," Meyer said. "He was a handful. He was never a bad guy; it was strictly immaturity."
After Arnette decided to change his mind about heading to the NFL last year to return for his redshirt senior year, he fully embraced the Buckeyes’ culture for the first time.
"I chose to go back to school to rewrite my legacy at Ohio State," Arnette said in a conference call with Raiders reporters. "I felt like I wasn’t the best player I could be on or off the field, so I decided to come back to regather myself and start over."
"Boy, did he mature," Meyer said. "He really figured it out."
Still, Arnette was expected to fall to the second or third round on Friday, the expected day for running back J.K. Dobbins, linebacker Malik Harrison and possibly offensive lineman Jonah Jackson, defensive lineman DaVon Hamilton and receiver K.J. Hill to be taken.
Instead, the Raiders took him.
"We feel like this is one of the most complete football players in the entire draft," Las Vegas general manager Mike Mayock said. "We didn’t feel at all like it was a reach."
It was a banner night for Ohio State, and even though he’s no longer their coach, it was for Meyer as well.
"I'm very much at peace now that a place that I love, in my home state, they’ve got an elite coach, an elite program. It’s not even close in the Big Ten anymore," he said. "All you do is watch recruiting and Ohio State is just separating itself more and more every year.
"So the fact that I played a small part in that … of course, Ohio will always be home and I’ll always be a Buckeye and I’m very proud of what kind of shape that program is in."