Former Teammates Say Fickell Ready

Monday, new OSU interim head coach Luke Fickell held his first press conference in charge. Whether he'll be able to steer the ship in the right direction during the 2011 season will be one of the key topics, but some of Fickell's former teammates say that shouldn't be an issue.

It's an amazing fact that Luke Fickell is only one of four Ohio State football coaches to have also graduated from the university.

It might be an even more amazing fact that Fickell was never a captain at Ohio State despite starting a school-record 50 consecutive games from 1993-96.

However, that latter fact doesn't mean Fickell, who was appointed Ohio State's interim coach May 30 for the 2011 season when Jim Tressel resigned, wasn't a respected member of the team during his time at OSU, a tenure that ended with a Rose Bowl victory that capped an 11-1 record in 1996.

"I think he displayed leadership in ways where sometimes we don't herald it, by just working harder than anyone else and never quitting," said Stanley Jackson, who split time as the starting quarterback in Fickell's final season. "Luke was just as gritty and played just as hard as anyone on the field."

That grit and determination allowed Fickell to amass 212 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and six sacks in his time as the Buckeyes' starting nose guard.

Matt Finkes, another decorated starter along the mid-1990s defensive lines at Ohio State, roomed with Fickell during their college days and saw that intensity firsthand. Now, Finkes said those skills will serve Fickell well as he takes over the Buckeye program in a turbulent time.

"He's going to see this as an opportunity and a challenge, and he's going to put everything he has into it, not only because it's his chance and his personal opportunity, but Luke loves Ohio State and he wants to succeed here," Finkes said. "He's going to make sure with everything he has in him that this program isn't going to falter even with the challenges that it faces right now. I think he's going to put all that much more effort into it."

Besides, pressure situations and adversity are nothing new to Fickell. He made a key interception during Ohio State's win at Michigan in 1994, helping the Buckeyes earn what was a rare win vs. U-M in that era.

Two years later, Fickell tore a chest muscle in lead up to the Rose Bowl, but he still played in the game, which turned out to be a thrilling late victory for the Buckeyes, who kept elusive Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer under wraps.

"That kind of determination and grit are what I think Luke is known best for, and that kind of attitude is going to serve us well," Finkes said.

Fickell, who prepped at Columbus DeSales, was also a standout wrestler in high school, earning three state championships and capturing two junior national championships. Finkes said those abilities on the mat helped mold Fickell into a leader during his time at Ohio State.

"Luke was one of the most respected guys on the team," Finkes said. "He always was the guy you could count on. He didn't miss practice. He was always there working his butt off. That's the kind of guy he was. I think that translated from being a good wrestler, the kind of discipline that is required to do that. To translate that onto the football field and into the classroom and everything else that he did, you could always tell Luke was a very focused individual."

Wrestling is known as one of the most demanding individual sports in existence, and Fickell found a role that required similar toughness when he got to OSU. Playing nose guard, he often went up against bigger players and was tasked with holding up his end of the bargain.

"I'm not surprised (he has become a head coach)," Jackson said. "I think most guys who played nose guard in the trenches, were a little undersized, a big heart – whatever they set their minds out to do in life after football, they're usually fairly successful."

Finkes said he is still close with Fickell – who returned to OSU to coach in 2002, took over mentoring the linebackers in '04 and moved up to co-defensive coordinator a year later – and thus had fielded a number of calls from former Buckeyes wishing the new coach well.

"I let him know that I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of other football alumni and people who really know that I'm close with Luke still and expressed their wishes through me, and I wanted to relate that to him," he said. "He has a lot of support and a lot of backing. That was my big thing – I wanted to let him know that he has a lot of people behind him that hope he does well."

Jackson, who has worked as a radio analyst the past few years on WTVN 610 AM, said that it was a bit odd to know that a former teammate – even one who had been on staff at OSU for so long – was now going to be in charge.

"It's a little surreal," Jackson said. "Luke is a year older than me. Luke is 37 and he's the head coach at Ohio State, the most prestigious job in the country. It's a big deal Knowing that I played side-by-side with a guy who is going to lead the Buckeyes is very exciting."

Jackson and Finkes also agreed that Fickell is the right choice for the job now, and should he perform well, he should get a strong chance to permanently man the ship once the season is over.

"He'll surround himself with good people, and I have no doubt he'll be successful," Finkes said. "I think this will go really well. I have no doubt that he'll be able to produce."


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