OSU’s Hilliard pans new kickoff rule

Tim May
tmay@dispatch.com
Ohio State Buckeyes linebackers Zach Turnure (36) and Justin Hilliard (47) celebrate after Turnure sacked Michigan State Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) during Saturday's NCAA Division I football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus on November 11, 2017. [Barbara J. Perenic/Dispatch]

One game is in the books under a new kickoff rule that allows a team to make a fair catch anywhere inside the 25-yard line and get the ball placed at the 25, and Ohio State’s Justin Hilliard has a pretty strong opinion on it.

“I honestly hate it,” Hilliard said Wednesday. “You’re running 50 yards full speed, and you can see a guy catch it at the 5, perfect kick placement, and then they get that fair catch. It honestly kind of sucks.”

Hilliard, a linebacker, was in on all 12 Ohio State kickoffs in a 77-31 win Saturday over Oregon State. Six of Blake Haubeil’s kicks were touchbacks, three were fair-caught and three were returned, the farthest getting to the Oregon State 24.

But on all 12, there were collisions, the main thing the new rule is trying to reduce.

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“What I see, even from watching other games, is people running down full speed — you don’t know the guy is going to fair-catch yet, so the front-line guys are still blocking you full on, the back-end guys are still blocking you full-on,” Hilliard said. “There are still like big collisions in the back end.”

He said maybe it has avoided the big hits on the returner, “but other things, probably not.”

Beating the heat

The two more emphatic commands heard over the loudspeaker from closed Ohio State practices the past five weeks were “stay up” and “hydrate.”

The payoffs: The Buckeyes escaped preseason camp with no major injuries reported, due in some measure to the “stay up” command, which means don’t tackle all the way to the ground. They also made it through one of the hotter stretches of 90-degree days in recent memory the past two weeks with no major heat-related problems.

After practice Wednesday in which the temperature topped 91 for the second straight day, defensive tackle Robert Landers credited the team’s health in large part to the efforts of performance coordinator Mickey Marotti.

“He preaches hydration to us 24-7, seven days a week … ‘Hydration. Hydration. Hydration,’ ” Landers said. “And then he really takes it to more depth, ‘Make sure you are salting your food to get the electrolytes,’ and different little drinks to help us replenish and get the electrolytes and proper nutrients we need back into our bodies before and during practice.

“And coming around in meetings and making guys … pound a bottle of water right then and there, and then get another one … while film (session) is going on.”

He also sends out reminders by text message.

“All the credit goes to coach Mick and the rest of the training staff and weight-room staff,” Landers said. “Coach Mick definitely knows what he’s doing, and as players we all trust him.”

tmay@dispatch.com

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