Buckeyes Have Bright Outlook On Summer

Marion, Ohio, native Warren G. Harding ran for president on the platform of a "Return to Normalcy." New Ohio State football coach Luke Fickell likely could do the same. Though it has been a tumultuous few months at OSU with the departures of Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor, players speaking Tuesday said everything feels the same -- and positive -- around the team facility under the new coach.

The head coach who recruited every player on the team is gone. The starting quarterback who lost only four games in three years and led Ohio State to two BCS bowl wins – gone, too. The program has been the subject of repeated slams and jabs in the public arena in a variety of ways as well.

Yes, there are plenty of reasons for the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to be covered by a dark cloud these days, but the four upperclassmen made available to the media Tuesday afternoon said that very much is not the case.

"It's not a funeral home," defensive back Nate Oliver said. "Whenever you step through those doors, we know we have to go to work. That's what it is. We're Ohio State. We're playing for our tradition. It's bigger than us. It's bigger than one person and it's bigger than this team."

Center Michael Brewster went even a step further as the players spoke to the media for the first time since Tressel's departure.

"The vibe is great. It couldn't be better, actually," the senior said. "If anything, we've just gotten tighter, we've gotten more pissed off and we're ready to go. Add that to a group of guys and we can do some damage. This is a great group of guys. We're not going to back down just because stuff happened in the past. If anything, we're working harder than ever.

"It's easy to get content when you win six Big Ten championships, so if anything it's coming at a good time for us to really buckle down and get ready."

Of course, those six Big Ten titles – good to tie for the program and conference record – came under different circumstances. Head coach Jim Tressel was at the helm for all six, capping a sterling 10-year run, while Terrelle Pryor was the starting quarterback for the last three.

By now, the absences of both have been well-documented, with Pryor among six players suspended for violating NCAA rules, Tressel first suspended and then resigning for not forwarding along information about the violations and Pryor then leaving school a week later as more allegations formed.

All that would be enough to knock many programs back a peg, but not so at Ohio State, the players all said.

"As we say, everyone has a plan until you're hit," Oliver said. "We've been hit pretty hard this offseason with everything going on, but we came closer together and we're going to move on from here and continue to work."

The players said things have continued on as normal under new head coach Luke Fickell, who spent nine years on Tressel's staff, lastly as linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator.

Of course, Fickell also hasn't had much chance to spend a lot of time with his charges. Tressel coached spring practice and resigned on Memorial Day, so the former OSU nose guard hasn't had a chance to run any drills on the football field as only the strength staff is allowed access to players during summer workouts.

Off the field, Fickell has tried to preach his message but has run into issues like finals week and summer break before the team reconvened in mid-June.

"That's the hard part right now is us as coaches haven't been around as much," Fickell said. "This happened Memorial Day, and we had maybe a week with them. Getting the pulse of the team, you think you know, but the curious thing is we're not around them that much because we're not allowed to be around them.

"You have to kind of get that from the players and the guys in the little interactions you have with them now, which is why you're around. You can't watch them work out to see what the pulse is, but you get some good feedback from the kids."

Fickell would be happy to hear his players comments to the media, though, as those questioned said those workouts have continued uninterrupted – and fostered a new sense of team.

"Just continuing this team unity," defensive lineman Johnny Simon said when asked what the team wants to accomplish right now. "It's awesome right now. Everyone loves coming in every day, and we have to keep that going and keep working hard."

The team will continue working out and staging 7-on-7 drills until fall camp begins in early August. From there, the team is looking forward to the season opener Sept. 3 vs. Akron, which will be only two months away once the Fourth of July weekend passes.

At that point, the goal of continuing to win championships will still stand, Brewster said.

"I don't think it was tough to get our act together," he said. "There was no point in time where we felt sorry for ourselves. There was no point in time where we were down or like, ‘Man, I don't know what's going to happen.' There were tough times emotionally for a day or two after some stuff happened, but other than that, nothing ever stopped.

"Workouts never stopped. Everything just kept going, and it's got to. We don't have much time. A month and a half, then camp's here, then the season. It's like 60-some days until the first game. We're just trying to get ready for that."

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