Tressel, Seniors Discuss Recent Incidents

OSU coach Jim Tressel and five of his seniors met with the media Wednesday to discuss the recent spate of off-the-field problems that have dogged the football program. The seniors said they have been embarrassed by the conduct of their teammates, while Tressel said he hopes an improved drug testing plan will help deter some from being involved with drugs or alcohol.

"We're going to be as good a football team as the class of people we are." – Paul Brown

"A team is controlled better by attitude than by rules." – Woody Hayes

"The desire to win is translated to team conduct." – Woody Hayes

These quotes, offered by two of Ohio State's legendary football coaches, adorn the walls of the main team meeting room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

It was in that meeting room this afternoon where OSU coach Jim Tressel and five of his seniors met with the media to discuss the recent off-the-field problems involving the football program.

It was in that same meeting room a day earlier where Tressel had the floor for a team meeting. Then, after the coaching staff left, the team's seniors each took turns addressing the underclassmen on their expectations.

At today's press conference, the players expressed embarrassment over the actions of a few players. Tressel outlined plans to stiffen drug testing throughout the athletic department.

"The public perception now is we've been getting into some trouble," said senior linebacker Anthony Schlegel. "We've had guys in the news and people asking what's going on with our program. The sad thing for me is our program is not like that."

A.J. Hawk and Nate Salley during Wednesday's press conference

As many as four players have been involved in scrapes with the law in the last two weeks, bringing the total to as many as 20 players who have been accused of various crimes in Tressel's four-plus years on the job.

The latest string began two weeks ago, when kicker Jonathan Skeete was arrested for marijuana trafficking. Then, in the span of a week, running back Erik Haw was cited for possession of marijuana, lineman Tim Schafer was ticketed for disorderly conduct and lineman T.J. Downing was dealing with an outstanding warrant from a string of traffic-related offenses.

New athletic director Gene Smith told The Cincinnati Enquirer that, potentially, jobs could be on the line if the current climate continues. Tressel took note of that statement.

"I had a meeting with him this morning," Tressel said. "He kind of related to me that he put his and my job out there in an interview with one of the Cincinnati papers. He said, `Just so you know, I mentioned that the football coach and the athletic director are judged by those things.'

"That's real. That's not a revelation."

One of the seniors, walk-on lineman John Conroy, pointed out some of the team's positive achievements.

"We will have the most student-athletes that have ever been to that banquet going tonight," he said. "We do a lot of community service. But things like that never get touched upon. As a whole, (the negatives) are not who we are."

Schlegel said the players sometimes feel like they are under a microscope.

"It's hard being a football player and a student-athlete," he said. "You have to have that God-given ability. You have to be a hard worker and you have got to go to class. Because you are given all of those things, you have got to uphold and there are rules and punishments in place.

"This is our football family. What happens if your brother did something? You would be there for him and give him encouragement. It just so happens we live under a microscope and the things we do are brought out into the public."

Offensive tackle Rob Sims said he is tired of the negative headlines.

"It is frustrating to see us in the news all the time because people are getting in trouble," he said. "We came here to play football, but it is a privilege for us to be here. That's something we need to understand. We are role models to kids here in Columbus and all over the country."

Sims said the seniors have to get the message across to the younger players.

"We have to talk to the young guys and make sure they see that what's going on in the program we can't stand for," he said. "There are 105 guys you've got to look out for. I wish I could be there with everybody every minute of the day.

"We'll get there one day. That's how I look at it."

Schlegel said it would not be right to pull a player's scholarship over one minor misstep.

"You don't want an 18-year-old to make one mistake and say, `You're off the team,' " he said. "You want them to learn from their mistake and grow. With the rules we have in place, that can happen and they can bounce back. There will be a punishment there they have to deal with, but you don't want to ruin people's lives. You want them to grow and overcome and be better men.

"This is a big city with a lot of temptations for guys. The big thing is to make the right decisions."

The players were asked if there was a drug problem on the team.

"No," Conroy said.

"No, not at all," Sims said. "This kind of hit us by surprise."

Linebacker A.J. Hawk was asked if the seniors felt they needed to get control of this situation before it derailed what they hope is a championship season.

"We talk about all the time being a family and we feel like we are," he said. "When things like this happen, it's not like we blackball guys and say, `You can't come back.' We know everyone makes mistakes. We don't judge people. We try and bring them back and make sure they work that much harder and pay for their mistakes.

"We have a lot of good seniors here and I think we've done a real good job the last couple of weeks when these things have happened. I think this is almost a wake-up call for this team to realize that if these things happen they could eventually have an impact on our team. We don't want that to happen."

Safety Nate Salley called on his teammates to "practice what they preach."

Nate Salley

"People say they want to do their best and be national champions, then they go back and do the opposite things," he said.

Hawk talked about what happened in Wednesday's meeting.

"There was a players only meeting and the seniors got up and said what they had to say," Hawk said. "They got out what they were feeling the last couple of months. You have to do the things you value. If you say you want to be the best, you have to act like that."

Salley backed Tressel's handling of off-the-field issues.

"One of the reasons we came here is because we know what type of person he is outside of football," Salley said. "Our parents have met him and they think he is a great guy. We know about his records in football, but we respect him even more as a person off the field."

Tressel's Take

If Tressel is supposed to be an embattled coach, he did not seem like it at today's press event.

He was asked if the recent wave of problems has led him to change his message or policies.

"I don't that from a grand scheme of things we've changed anything," Tressel said. "One thing that we have had ongoing discussion about is the importance of an outstanding drug and alcohol testing policy and most especially follow-up. That's been a discussion that's been going on.

"I had that discussion with (previous AD) Andy (Geiger) for years and now, in the short time with Gene, that is one of those things that is high on his list of priorities."

Tressel said the team was told of OSU's increased emphasis on testing during the team meeting.

"Gene allowed me, in light of recent situations, to talk to the team about the huge emphasis we will have and the frequency of testing will be significantly more," Tressel said.

Currently, OSU athletes who have a substance abuse incident and/or positive test are referred to counseling on the first instance. It remains a coach's decision on playing time and team status. A second instance brings an automatic two-week suspension. A third carries a one-year penalty.

Tressel was asked if he felt his team had a substance abuse problem.

"Do I think it's a big problem?" he said. "I'm not sure exactly how I would define big. It's significant, just like it is in society. It's a lot more than it ought to be and a lot more than would be healthy.

"I have always had a strong belief in the power of a very good drug and alcohol testing policy. We spent lots of money on that at Youngstown State and I thought it had a lot to do with the good fortune that some of our guys had there.

"I have had a suspicion that we have not invested here at Ohio State like we should have and like we are capable of. I guess that's why … I'm so fired up. I feel that way about Gene and I on the drug testing. That's a passion of his and a passion of mine. I think the results of a good program can really help your kids and really help your team."

Tressel talked about the toll off-the-field concerns have had on him.

"It is nervewracking because you want so badly for these kids to meet the goals and those values that they prescribe to have," he said. "Each time something occurs, absolutely it's heartbreaking. But after the initial feeling, from that standpoint … it's what can we do to get better.

"It's an interesting youth that are coming through. I call it a little bit of a SportsCenter society. It's highlights but not depth."

Tressel was asked how he equates winning with character development.

"In the long haul, it's not even close," he said. "Character development and what people become by having experience in the collegiate athletic scene, that's what is most important. Are wins and losses irrelevant? No, we all know that. But which are more important? Character development."

Vince O'Brien, trainer for OSU's men's basketball team, has been tapped to oversee the department's increased drug testing.

"One thing that will change will be the frequency in the testing," O'Brien said. "We hope it acts as a deterrent and as another reason not to use."

OSU has conducted tests four or five times per year to a random 10 percent of each team. Then, all teams are also tested randomly. Plus, athletes with previous positive tests are tested each time.

The school has spent $50,000 annually on its drug testing program. That figure could double, O'Brien said.

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