Buckeyes Ready To Enjoy New Orleans

Even with all the recent news about the Ohio State program in the headlines, the No. 6 Buckeyes still have a game to play Jan. 4 vs. Arkansas. They will do so in the city in which they arrive today -- New Orleans. The Buckeyes (some of whom have Louisiana connections) talk about keeping their focus in the Big Easy and about how their last trip will help in that regard.

The last time he stepped off a plane with the Ohio State football team in New Orleans, Brian Rolle admitted he was getting ready for a bit of fun in the city known as the Big Easy.

"I was a freshman then and my role on the team wasn't as big as this year," the linebacker said. "I wasn't really into it the last time because I wasn't playing. It was a free trip to have fun."

Rolle was just a freshman special teamer then, a player trusted to do nothing more than run down the field in his lane while covering kickoffs as the Buckeyes faced LSU in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game.

Now a senior leader on the sixth-ranked Buckeye team that arrives today to take on No. 8 Arkansas in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, Rolle knows his trip to NoLa will be different this time around.

"I think guys this year are taking it seriously," he said. "People talk about how we haven't played well against the SEC and that's true. But our heads are on straight and we're taking it to heart that guys think we can't play. We're going to show them on Jan. 4 that we can."

Doing so would snap the now-infamous nine-game bowl losing streak against the SEC, and that ninth loss came during the team's last visit to New Orleans against the Tigers. It would also put the program in a bit of a positive light after the furor over NCAA violations involving six players.

To accomplish those goals, the Buckeye elders said they have always planned to treat this visit as a business trip.

"That's what it is," said kicker Devin Barclay, who used to travel across the world while playing soccer. "We're going down to take care of business. We want to have fun, but it's not going to be a great trip if we go down and lose. Nobody thinks back to the trip ‘Oh, we had so much fun, but we lost.' I'd rather not have any fun and win."

There are plenty of ways to enjoy the city without ending up on the police blotter – or even worse, given New Orleans' reputation as a party town.

For defensive tackle Dexter Larimore, the thing he's looking forward to the most is simple.

"Personally, I'm a bigger guy, so probably the food," the 310-pounder said with a smile. "They have unbelievable food. The last time we were down there, as soon as we got off the plane we had some jambalaya, some great shrimp, some nice lobster – nice Southern, great food."

Many fans surely agree, though others will take in such sights as Bourbon Street and the Harrah's Casino located downtown.

Though the casino was off-limits to the OSU team during its last trip, a few Buckeyes did admit they took a trip to the French Quarter.

"I think I went to it once just to say I was there, but it was at 4 o'clock in the afternoon," linebacker Ross Homan said. "Usually when you're in a bowl you try to see that the city has to offer, but once we have practice going on it gets pretty serious for the game."

The memories made in New Orleans could be a little more personal to a few Buckeyes. Defensive end Cameron Heyward will end his Ohio State career playing in the Louisiana Superdome, a stadium in which his father, Craig, played in the NFL for the New Orleans Saints.

"The earliest I've been there is when my dad just played," Heyward said of his running back father known as "Ironhead". "I remember he used to take me down on his shoulder after the games and into the locker room. I got a bunch of people close to New Orleans are coming. What better place, besides the national championship, would I rather be?"

Meanwhile, fellow defensive senior Chimdi Chekwa will be returning to the city in which he spent much of his youth. Though he graduated from a high school in Clermont, Fla., Chekwa lived in the New Orleans area in his younger days.

"It's kind of my home, so it's going to be fun to go back out there and play in the Sugar Bowl," the cornerback said. "All my family are in the south. They're all in that area – Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana – so they'll be able to come down to the game and support me. I have a lot of friends down there so it will be a nice little homecoming."

Chekwa said he still had some friends in the area when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, but no one was severely affected.

The last time Ohio State tripped to New Orleans, the championship game was one of the first big events to take place in the city after the storm. Current team members said they were looking forward to seeing what progress has been made in the recovery efforts.

"Yeah, it was weird when we flew in there the first time, you were flying right over places that were still destroyed," senior wideout Dane Sanzenbacher said. "So it'll be cool back there to see how things have changed."

With all that on tap, it's clear the atmosphere in one of America's biggest party cities can be a distraction – especially when New Year's Eve is taken into account – but it will be up to the team's seniors to make sure the focus is on the task at hand.

Rolle will draw from his last experience in New Orleans to make that point.

"A lot of guys on the team weren't with us in 2007 and they don't know that if you let it get to you, you can get in trouble down there," he said. "Our seniors will get the guys together before we leave and say, 'Hey, have fun.' We'll have deputies come in and say to stay away from certain places.

"You have to be able to have fun without getting into trouble."

Buckeye Sports Top Stories