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Chicago Trib article on the Buckeyes



Buckeyes aim for right door

A look at the Buckeyes
By Teddy Greenstein
Tribune staff reporter

August 7, 2004

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Most coaches have an open-door policy, but Ohio State's Jim Tressel takes it to another level.

The Buckeyes can't walk from their team meeting room to the locker room without passing Tressel's office door, which usually is open.

"There's literally no alternative route," fullback Branden Joe says. "Maybe if you had a bad game or missed a class, you'd want to crawl under the door. But you're going to see Coach Tressel whether you like it or not."

Joe insists that's a good thing.

"He's a wonderful guy," he says of Tressel. "We joke and laugh with him ... to a certain level."

Tressel might seem as fun as a toll-booth clerk, but his players see a side the public sometimes does not.

"When he's on the phone, he'll pause to say hi or throw a hand up at you," receiver John Hollins says.

Tressel, whose team followed its 2002 national championship by going 11-2, has had only one major blemish in Columbus: Too many players have had trouble with the law.

Since Tressel's hiring Jan. 18, 2001, 14 Ohio State players have been arrested in 15 incidents, most of which were alcohol-related or for disorderly conduct.

You know things are going badly when the third-string punter—A.J. Trapasso—is arrested and charged with underage drinking, as he was in April. It was Trapasso's second such offense.

Ohio State players say part of the problem is their celebrity status in Columbus, the nation's third largest city (after Los Angeles and San Antonio) without pro football.

"There are people out there who say they're fans, but they still want to instigate you," defensive tackle Quinn Pitcock says.

Tressel says that adds to the challenge of playing for Ohio State: "Our guys, they go to Applebee's or a bar or whatever, some guys are trying to get to them."

That's why Tressel talks to his players about having the courage to walk away from dicey situations.

"You really rack your brain to try to figure out ways to get the message across," Tressel says. "The coach standing up there talking and talking, it's not unlike Dad saying he walked uphill three miles to school. You try to get former players in. You try to bring up examples."

Tressel has enlisted former players such as Mike Vrabel and Steve Tovar to visit with his team. Tressel used a golf outing to recruit alumni to warn his players about evils such as drugs, steroids and agents—and to stress academics and career opportunities outside the game.

"Anybody that comes around, we try to yank them in front of our guys," he says. "Just little snippets. We try to wear them out with warnings. And you're still going to have problems."

All that is in contrast to Ohio State's superb discipline on the field. Not only are the Buckeyes 25-2 in the last two seasons, it seems they never lose a close game.

Their 2002 season featured close wins over Cincinnati (23-19), Wisconsin (19-14), Penn State (13-7), Purdue (10-6), Illinois (23-16), Michigan (14-9) and a 31-24 double-overtime victory in the Fiesta Bowl over No. 1 Miami.

Last year six of the team's 11 wins were by a touchdown or less.

The reason for all the close victories?

"Our conditioning program and the will to win," Pitcock says.

Adds left tackle Rob Sims: "The fourth quarter is pretty much all conditioning, and I think we condition harder than anyone in the country. And in the fourth quarter, we're not afraid to lose."

The task will be tougher this year after the Buckeyes lost 14 starters. Incredibly, all 14 were claimed during the NFL's seven-round draft.

The toughest losses will be lineman Will Smith, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year; Michael Jenkins, the school's career leader in receiving yards; and quarterback Craig Krenzel, whom the Bears made a fifth-round pick.

But at Ohio State there's no such thing as a rebuilding year. Tressel calls it a transition year.

"Rebuilding to me sounds like you're starting over," he says. "And I don't know that we're ever allowed to start over. You hope that even if the guys haven't been in the game, they've been paying attention to what's needed and what's expected."

Sims puts it this way: "At Ohio State it's not losing guys. It's opening spots for better people to come in."

Quarterback Justin Zwick, a redshirt sophomore who threw for more than 10,000 yards during his career at Massillon (Ohio) Washington High School, is favored to win the job over the mobile Troy Smith.

Senior tailback Lydell Ross will be expected to carry the burden of the offense in the early going. He battled through groin and toe injuries last year during an 826-yard season.

"Expect big things from Lydell," says Joe, his partner in the backfield. "He's hairs away from having that big season. He's been a little injury prone."

Linebacker A.J. Hawk mans a defense that held Big Ten opponents to a league-low 15.5 points per game last season.

Although his team is loaded with young Bucks, Tressel expects big things.

"I'd like to think we'll see marked improvement," he says. "It's fun to see guys emerge, as opposed to: 'OK, we're pretty good, let's stay good.'"

Whatever happens, Tressel will be watching closely. And his door will be open.
I'm not exactly clear on what celebrity status in Columbus has to do with staying out of trouble with the law. Resisting temptation in Columbus isn't (or shouldn't be) a whole lot different than resisting it in Norman or Madison, etc. These young men know when they come to tOSU that they are going to be in the limelight. They either suck it up and stay on a reasonably straight path or they don't. I'm sure no one can blame Tress and the coaches for not preaching common sense. Guys just have to absorb it, and sign on to it.
Go Bucks!
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RLC--the point of the "celebrity status in Columbus" observation is a recognition that Columbus is a large city with no pro football squad, the result of which is that everyone knows who the Buckeye football players are. Along with that comes a couple different things: (1) some Buckeye football players get big heads and feel they are invincible and can do anything; and (2) Columbus residents can recognize the players and be tempted to provoke them.

It doesn't justify problems with the law, it just means they have a little more temptation to break it.
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The issue with "trouble" is clearly youth and the feeling of invincibility. Add in the privileges of being a DI football player and you have a recipe for trouble. When you get older, it's easy to say, "why can't that 20 year old stay out of mischief? All he has to do is practice football, play football, study and get a degree." When you're 20, the world is your oyster and it's tough to stay on the straight and narrow all the time.
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Don't kid yourself about the celebrity status in Columbus. Think about this. Last summer when Marlin Jackson was in trouble in Michigan, it was never brought up that he was 20 and his victim identified him at closing time coming out of Rick's (campus bar that is 21 and over.) Initially reported that he had caused the damage with a beer bottle. Later it came out that he had just been to court a month earlier on a unrelated underage drinking charge that Lloyd Carr knew about and failed to pass on to the athletic director. Things like that are glossed over in the Ann Arbor's, Norman's and Madison's of the world. Not in Columbus.
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Which is why I hope Cbus never gets an NFL team. It being the only game in town has made OSU what it is... You put an NFL team here, and all of a sudden interest wanes a little bit (Not with people like us, of course)

Happened at Minnesota... before the Vikings, Minnesota was a serious player in big ten football... Have a look at Minnesota's production before 1961... Nothing to sneeze at. Minnesota needs to get a Campus stadium...
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