BSB Notebook: Akron

After a tumultuous season, the Tunnel of Pride is designed to help the Buckeyes feel support from those who wore scarlet and gray before them. They also talked about a different feeling under new head coach Luke Fickell and one particularly impressive freshman defensive lineman.

Ohio State's season-opening football game against Akron is scheduled to include more than just the debut of a new head coach and quarterback. The Buckeyes are looking forward to being welcomed onto the field by hundreds of former OSU players in the form of the Tunnel of Pride.

Begun in 1994 when Ohio State broke a six-year non-winning streak against Michigan, the Tunnel of Pride has become a tradition for when the Wolverines visit the Ohio Stadium to end the season. However, it has only taken place once outside of the Michigan series: When the Buckeyes downed Notre Dame 45-26 in 1995 in an eagerly awaited renewal of a rivalry that had been dormant since the 1930s.

This time around the opponent is decidedly less celebrated, but the players are looking forward to being part of what promises to be a special time for alumni to show support for them.

"That will be nice to see, especially after everything we've gone through," junior fullback Zach Boren said. "Seeing all the alums lined up will send a message that they have our back and we have to watch what we do when we're outside of the football field." 

The meaning is even greater for the Ohio State seniors who would otherwise not get to experience one this year because the Michigan game will be played in Ann Arbor.

"Yeah, the Tunnel of Pride is going to be pretty amazing," senior center Michael Brewster said. "I think it's only been done one other time outside the final home game of the season against Michigan. And I won't get a chance to be a part of that. So this is kind of cool for me. This is kind of my senior Tunnel of Pride. It's awesome. Players are showing support not only for the team but Coach ‘Fick'."

A Different Look and Feel: Fickell resisted the idea he has done or will do anything to put his personal stamp on the Ohio State football program since taking over as head coach at the beginning of the summer, but there have been a few notable differences.

One of the first noticed by reporters who are regular attendees of the Tuesday press luncheons held by the coach of the Buckeyes every week was the attire of Fickell and the players who accompanied him.

The 38-year-old Fickell wore a white button-down, collared shirt with an Ohio State logo on the breast while the players who followed him to the microphone sported black Ohio State polo shirts from Nike.

Fickell's predecessor and former boss, 58-year-old Jim Tressel, customarily wore a suit and tie to the event, as did the players.

No one will be much interested in what anyone is wearing if the Buckeyes keep winning like they did for a decade under Tressel, but the subtle change did lead some to wonder if there is a more casual feel to the business being done at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center these days.

Boren seemed to feel that is the case.

"That's just who he is," Boren said of Fickell. "I'd say the attitude in the locker room is a little younger, a little more refreshed. I think that comes out with that dress apparel." 

On the practice field, the effect may be just the opposite, however. Some aspects of practices looked a bit more spirited to reporters who were allowed to watch some of them during the preseason.

Fickell made his mark the first day the team was allowed to practice in pads when he fired up the troops during one of Tressel's contributions to practice: The Maize and Blue period.

"We've done that before, but he really brought a lot of energy to that," Boren said. "He had guys hooting and hollering and jumping up and down. That's the first time I saw that and was like, ‘He really brings a lot of energy to this team.'" 

Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, whom Fickell credited with bringing back to his alma mater to join Tressel's staff in 2002, said there is no doubt the current and former head coach have different temperaments but that habits remains mostly unchanged.

"He's made some subtle changes he believes in, but overall the players know what they're doing and we're just kind of business as usual," Heacock said.

Bennett Impressive: Standing out amid the performance of a freshman class that had members of the team and coaching staff buzzing throughout fall came was no easy task, but defensive lineman Michael Bennett did just that.

He was one of eight true freshmen listed in the initial two-deep at the beginning of the week and might be the member of his class most likely to see meaningful minutes because of Heacock's fondness for regularly rotating as many as eight players up front.

"He is a great player," starting right tackle J.B. Shugarts said. "He has a little mean streak to him. He plays extremely hard, he comes off the ball hard. He only has one speed and it's go. He is doing a great job of that, getting to the ball, getting off blocks, and really working on  his pass rush abilities. I think he is going to do a great job this Saturday." 

Linemate John Simon has noticed that edge in the Centerville, Ohio, native as well.

"He picks up the plays fast and things like that, but when he's out there he's going to fight," Simon said. "Just having a guy on the field like that is great. He's doing a nice job for us."

Heacock did not sound surprised at the early success of the former Elk even though he had to spend at least half of his high school days playing on the other side of the ball.

"He was an offensive player in high school more but I like him when I saw him play," Heacock said. "He came off the ball and had great explosion."

The coach also appreciated Bennett's success throwing the discuss and putting the shot as a prepster, abilities that exhibit explosiveness.

"I always like defensive players like that so we thought he was going to be good," Heacock said. "He's got good maturity about him. I don't know that he would get flustered. He played at a great program at Centerville. He's had some tough coaching and guys got after him a little bit, so he's handled all that real well. I thought he was going to be good coming in." 

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