BSB Notebook: Fickell Does Not Fear Freshmen

Ohio State's head coach is big on finding roles for as many players as he can, even if that means going light on the redshirts for freshmen. Last week Luke Fickell brought in one of his most successful former Buckeye teammates – and a former redshirt – to help fire up the troops for a rousing win. That and more in this week's notebook.

Ohio State is back in serious discussion for a berth in the Big Ten championship game. That much you probably already knew.

But did you know a famous former Buckeye might deserve a big assist in helping the current crew take its biggest step in that direction so far this season?

Multiple players gave credit this week for their exemplary performance against Wisconsin last week to a pregame speech from two-time All-American cornerback Shawn Springs.

"He was one of those guys that let you know that you're playing for something way bigger than yourself," offensive lineman Mike Adams said earlier this week. "He let it be known to us that we're playing for all the former players, the Orlando Paces, Shawn Springs, Terry Glenn, all the great players who used to play here and all the great players that will play here in the future. It's our responsibility right now to keep this program rolling, to keep Ohio State a great place to be for all the young football players."

Springs is a second generation Buckeye (his late father, Ron, was a running back and team captain for Woody Hayes in the last 1970s) who played with current Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell from 1993-96, a time the program first returned to national power status under head coach John Cooper after a drop in the late 1980s. Springs was the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year in 1996 and went on to a 14-year NFL career.

"He was basically telling us we are Ohio State and we should start acting like it," said wide receiver Philly Brown. "He was saying he hasn't seen the tradition of Ohio State through the first couple of weeks. He just wants us to get that swagger back about us and start acting like Ohio State."

Travis Howard, one of the players who has taken up Springs mantel as a Buckeye cornerback, took Springs' message to heart as he prepared to face Wisconsin star receiver Nick Toon.

"He told us if he was going against Nick Toon, he'd just shut him down, so the whole time in my mind I had him watching me so I basically had to do what I had to do and showcase my talents," Howard said.

Toon finished the game with only three catches for 39 yards.

"I think it helped with our confidence a lot," Brown said. "Just to go out there and make sure we know who we stand for and who we play for and the people that came before us and the people that are going to come after us. We have to make sure we keep it going."  

No Fear Of Freshmen
Speaking of Springs, Fickell used him as an example of why sometimes caution is not the best course of action when it comes to choosing which first-year players to use and which ones to give redshirts.

Ohio State has played 15 true freshmen this year, including starting quarterback Braxton Miller and Wisconsin-game hero Devin Smith, a wide receiver.

"You gotta play them. The more you can get them on the field the better chance you have them of not being freshmen by the end of the year," said Fickell, who played as a true freshman in 1992. "It comes down to how you perform in November. And hopefully by November 1 they're not freshmen any more. They walk out on the field today, I'm not going to accept them making freshmen mistakes, they've been here long enough."

Fickell came close to mimicking a favorite saying of his old coach, Cooper, who once (or maybe more than once) declared, "If a dog's gonna bite, he'll bite as a pup."

Said Fickell, "Hey, if you can play, we've got to find a way to get guys on the field. Too often guys are sitting there on the sideline and halfway through the season you'd say, ‘Wow, I think he could have been better if we would have just played him early.' I mean, Shawn Springs was our honorary captain this past weekend and I remember he was a year behind me. He was redshirted and there he is as a redshirted guy over there doing one-on-ones and just covering guys and I'm sure the coaches by midway through the year are going, ‘Here's this guy who is going to be phenomenal, and I know he can help us somewhere…'

"Whether it was an anti-sniper or sniper, he may not be the starting corner, but by the time you get halfway through the season I don't know. Then he leaves after four years anyway. So the ability to get those guys on the field as soon as possible, as early as possible, whether it's just special teams, getting them the reps on defense or offense, during practice, I think is huge."

Secret Captains?
Fickell's decision not to name permanent captains until after the season has met some resistance from fans and former players, but the current squad is rolling with it. The story took another twist this week when the school did not announce who will serve for the Indiana game, as it had prior to every other game this season.

"I want it to be focused on what the team is," Fickell said when asked about that decision. "It's not about who we put out there. It's not about me, it's not about any one guy, it's just about picking guys each and every week that have continued to battle and fight and believe in what we're doing. This is a team. What four guys represent us on Saturday afternoon will be that." 

The players have already been told who will serve as captains.

Although the honor has rotated throughout the season, Fickell previously said permanent captains would be selected after the season for posterity.

Senior center Michael Brewster has been selected a captain five times already while senior linebacker Andrew Sweat has served four times and junior defensive lineman John Simon three.

Senior safety Tyler Moeller has been a two-time captain, and J.B. Shugarts, Joe Bauserman, Nate Ebner, Zach Boren, Jacob Stoneburner and Dan Herron have all served for one game apiece.

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