Talk About Program Bringing Buckeyes Together

Ohio State has found itself in the center of a national storm the likes of which no program would like to see during this offseason, but the Buckeye players say that could be a positive when 2011 kicks off. The players are using the talk about the program as fuel as they go through summer workouts and get ready for the campaign.

Any gear bearing school colors worn by Ohio State football players as they headed home for the break between spring and summer quarter classes in June might as well have been a scarlet letter.

Of course, the Buckeyes always stand out in a crowd – especially in their own communities – but that notoriety led, perhaps not surprisingly, to plenty of questions for the players in the wake of the recent events that cost head coach Jim Tressel his job, sent quarterback Terrelle Pryor packing and left OSU likely admitting to NCAA violations.

"You know, everyone has their opinion," senior defensive back Nate Oliver said. "Everyone wants to say what they have to say. As far as affecting me, you really just have to ignore it, honestly. It's hard to ignore it at times, but really you just have to ignore it and move on."

Even in the best of times, Ohio State football players profess that the opinions that mean the most to them emanate from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and not from outside of what they call the "sacred brotherhood."

Still, it can be hard to ignore the talk about the program, especially when it pops up as often as it has over the past few months. Take the case of senior linebacker Andrew Sweat, who talked to the media Wednesday afternoon after coming from an internship at which he acknowledged the talk about the program does come up.

"You do get a lot of questions, but the answer we give is we're moving forward and we're excited about the season," Sweat said. "Obviously there's been some adversity to hit our family, but we're excited."

More complex than questions and from fans and acquaintances are media reports about the program, especially those alleging further wrongdoing in the wake of the scandal that six players sold memorabilia and received discounted tattoos.

Numerous reports alleged the misdeeds went deeper, and there is little doubt the reputation of the program run by Tressel has been dragged through the mud in recent months. According to Sweat, the program he heard about in some stories didn't sound like the one in which he's spent the past three seasons.

"I've always been one to focus on our family. Everyone has opinions, but I know what happens within this program and I know what we stand for," he said. "Maybe people disagree with that, but I'm passionate. I love Ohio State, and we're excited to move forward. You just stay focused and have tunnel vision. Obviously people are entitled to their opinion, but you just move forward."

A lot harder for nine players to ignore were allegations by Sports Illustrated that they had also received discounted tattoos or money. One of those players, Johnny Simon, at first was told by the university not to comment publicly, but his father, John, broke his silence after the story came out in interviews, including with

"We have to do what they tell us to do," the defensive lineman said. "I would just say it was a rough time, especially for my family and things like that, how they have to answer questions."

Ohio State will likely find itself out of the good graces of the media when it comes to on-field projections as well. The Buckeyes have won 10 or more games and captured a Big Ten championship in each of the past six seasons, but with seven starters gone on defense and Pryor – who went 31-4 in three years as a starter – gone, the Buckeyes might not be the favorites to capture another league crown.

"It's kind of fun," fullback Zach Boren said. "Of course it's fun to go out and prove people wrong. What's better than that? Most years I was here, everyone picked us to go to the national championship, win the Big Ten. This year when people start doubting, it's kind of fun. It's a change in scenery."

In fact, the combined effect on the field of all the negative talk about the program could be a positive. Nearly every player interviewed over the past two weeks as Ohio State has staged new summer interview sessions has talked about how the team is working harder than ever and can't wait to get back on the field.

"If it's hard to ignore and it's really that bad, you just take on what they said, negative and positive – and most of the time it's usually negative, obviously – but you take that on and you go work out and it makes you push that much harder in the weight room," Oliver said. "It makes you do that much more."

"You know what? It's definitely going to put a chip on our shoulder," Simon said.

In other words, it will likely be "us against the world" for Ohio State in 2011.

"That's the attitude we always take," Oliver said. "It's always us against the world. The only people that matter in this world during the season are the guys inside the locker room."

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