Two days a week, the Ohio State football team does upper body workouts as part of its eight-hour-a-week offseason strength and conditioning program. Two days a week, the Buckeyes work the lower body under new football performance head Mickey Marotti and his staff. Wednesday is for mat drills, and it's a day of the week that gives the OSU graduate a smile on his face.
That plan is not all that different from those put together by strength and conditioning coaches at the other 119 Division I institutions, though. Those athletes are putting in their eight hours a week, working their bodies to get better, too.
So what's so good about what's going on at Ohio State these days?
"It feels like they're exercising everything," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino told a gathering of reporters Wednesday.
And by everything, he means everything. There is a competitive aspect to every drill the Buckeyes do, and those who don't fight to the end in every repetition are given "loafs" that are tracked and punished by the guilty party having to wear a lavender shirt around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Morning workouts might be over early, but that's not the end of the day for some players. Those players in need of significant weight adjustments along with all freshmen must attend a "Breakfast Club" in which their meals are tracked. It's all part of a significant overhaul of the team's training table overseen by Sarah Wick that has resulted in better meals for the body and taste buds as well as lower body fat on the team.
In other words, no stone is unturned – mentally, physically, emotionally or gastro-intestinally – in the Ohio State offseason program when it comes to making the Buckeyes better.
"At the end of the day we go home and we're exhausted, but it's a great feeling," Sabino said. "Speaking for myself personally I feel like I put everything I had into it (each day). I might go home exhausted and complain, but deep down inside I'm very happy about it."
Sabino's words have to sound good to Marotti, who was with new head coach Urban Meyer at Florida and followed him to Ohio State after his November hiring. The new czar of workouts in Columbus had some rather blunt assessments of the shape the Buckeyes were in when he first arrived, but now a month into the offseason program, he's starting to see the desired effect.
"It's not even close," Marotti said when asked to compare the team's shape from day one to now. "You expect that. It's something new and all of a sudden a month later, they understand who we are, what we're about, what we're trying to accomplish. It was very evident from day one that they knew my expectations and my staff's expectations and I know they knew Coach Meyer's expectations. Once you know what is asked of you, you just do it. We push them hard."
The Buckeyes work out five days a week under Marotti and fellow coaches Rick Court, Kenny Parker and holdovers Jeff Uhlenhake and Anthony Schlegel. Though some players choose to put in extra work at the conclusion of the week, Marotti said none should be required if players are doing what is asked of them by the coaches.
Marotti described his program as a "hybrid" style that combines Olympic lifting, power lifting, strength training, speed training and more.
"Speaking for the team, I think we've all seen great changes in our bodies," said Sabino, adding his body fat is down and he feels faster. "We're just really pushing ourselves and trying to get the best out of each other each and every day."
Sabino added the workouts aren't harder than those designed by the last staff, per se, though they're not easy. It's the thoroughness that is impressive, as the coaches are aware of every detail. In addition, competitive spirit is emphasized, as there are winners and losers in every drill.
Right now, players from each position group are competing in drills, and when it comes to mat drills, if one person doesn't get the job done, everyone starts over. The message is simple, as Marotti explained it. If one person makes a mental mistake in a football game, the team suffers, so it's the same in the weight room.
"Just holding accountable for your group and not letting other guys down I think is the coolest thing, and that's something we've really taken on," senior defensive lineman Johnny Simon said. "They talk a lot about the power of the unit, and you work a lot with your position group. If you screw up, the whole group starts over. You want to be accountable for the group and not let them down."
Neither player interviewed said there was any hesitancy with the team when it came to buying into the philosophy, and Marotti is seeing the adjustment he expected out of the players.
"I think obviously there's a time period just to get adapted to what you're doing, what we're asking them to do," Marotti said. "The body adapts. They've been doing a great job. They have a great attitude. That's all I look for. When you hear that door creak open and they walk through there, there can't be any bad demeanor because our program is a high energy program."
The work will continue until spring football, at which point the Buckeyes will get their first taste of any changes that will happen under Meyer on the field of play. Then it's time for the grueling summer workouts, which are constructed to make the Buckeyes feel like playing in a game – such as the Sept. 1 opener vs. Miami University – is child's play compared to the offseason activities.
While Marotti has been satisfied with what he's seen so far, that doesn't mean the Ohio State players are where they need to be. Luckily, there's plenty of time to go.
"We've been excited about their effort and their enthusiasm, and we're not there yet – not even close," Marotti said. "You just keep on going."