It can't come soon enough for senior Nick Mangold, back for his third year as the starter at center.
"You can only lift and run and watch football for so long before you break down," Mangold said earlier this week during festivities at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. "You've got to get out there on the field and do something. I'm excited to get things going, get back at it and get the pads on.
"We've had a great summer. Bringing Butch Reynolds in as a speed guy has helped. I have seen some great improvement with the team, not only in terms of strength but also in terms of getting together with the guys. I don't think there is anything else we can do. We have put a ton of time in and hopefully it works out well for us."
OSU's problems with the ground game a year ago have been well documented. The Buckeyes averaged just 97.6 yards per game on the ground in their first six games, losing three of those. But the team's 5-1 finish was powered with a stronger ground game as OSU averaged 193.0 yards per contest down the stretch.
"It took a little bit longer than we would have liked," Mangold said of the running game renaissance a year ago. "But we came together by the end of the year and got some things done offensively. Going through winter and spring, we've had time to get to know each other and get a lot of work done. Now, we need to carry that camaraderie and everything we've done over on to the field. Hopefully, we will have a great offensive line.
"It was frustrating because it was always one little thing that kept us from moving the ball. It could be one guy missing a block here or somebody missing a hole there. We'd get the play wrong or something like that. With what we've had going on, we have a determination now not to let that happen.
"Being an offensive lineman, you want to take a lot of the credit for that turnaround. Our offensive line became an anchor. Us coming together and playing well together, I think that really helped things out."
OSU coach Jim Tressel credited Mangold's play in the middle for helping to make some of the difference.
"He plays so low," Tressel said. "I've never seen a guy play with the power as low as he plays. Our league happens to have a bunch of good centers. I would match Nick Mangold, across the board for run and pass, as being as good as anybody."
Mangold hopes the offensive line – which will begin with senior Rob Sims at left tackle, junior T.J. Downing at left guard, junior Doug Datish at right guard and sophomore Kirk Barton at right tackle – will be one of the strong points of this team.
"I think we took the right steps to be there," Mangold said. "Coach Bollman and Coach Tressel coach to the strength of the players. Hopefully, we can give them a strength by being able to run the ball. As an offensive line, you want to be able to run the ball. We've been working very hard in the spring and the summer on what we have to do. Now we have to go and do it."
Mangold noted that it will take more than just the starting five for OSU to be successful. The Buckeyes finally have the depth back up to where it should be, so a number of other contributors could see extensive time.
"Having a cohesive unit is crucial," Mangold said. "But I don't think it just stops with the starting five. We've been working a lot over the summer at getting some things together as a whole offensive line. You're only as good as your weakest link. We've worked hard on bringing everybody together and bringing everybody up."
Mangold was pressed into service as a true freshman in 2002. That move allowed the Buckeyes to place his mentor, Alex Stepanovich, at guard. Similarly, Mangold is grooming his replacement, true freshman Jimmy Cordle, who arrived early for spring practice and is already in the two-deep.
"Jimmy came in, but you could tell from the start he's going to be a great player for Ohio State," Mangold said. "I'm interested in seeing how long it's going to take for him. Having Alex (Stepanovich) in front of me when I got here, he helped me along. I'm trying to do the same for Jimmy as well. It's kind of like raising your own little kid through the system. Hopefully he can do some good things while I'm here and after I'm gone."
Mangold, listed at 6-4 and 290 pounds, reflected on his first years in the program and how he has progressed into a guy considered among the Big Ten's best at the center position.
"Coming in as a little freshman, I wasn't as strong as I needed to be," he said. "But I was able to get things done mentally. That helped me out. That helped me to get in there. For the two years after that, I've worked on getting the physical game involved. I have an idea of what we're trying to do. Now, when you add in the physical side, I'm hoping that will complete out my senior season to be the best one I've had yet.
"Every year is a progression and I'm getting a lot of things done physically. With the lifts, I'm doing more than I've ever done. My bench is higher than it's ever been. It's around 440 pounds now. My squats have gone up as well. I'm stronger than I've ever been."
Mangold, a product of Kettering (Ohio) Alter, has also made progress on the academic side as well.
"With this summer getting finished up, I'll graduate after spring next year," he said. "Right now, I have a 3.0 GPA in business management. I'm hoping to get into real estate. I started out actually in architecture, but had to drop it because of the time commitment. What I found is in real estate, you still get to work with architects in design and things like that. Hopefully something along those lines with planning and development."
Mangold recalls the excitement around OSU's 2002 national championship team and how that team built its perfect 14-0 record.
"As soon as I got there in 2002, the seniors on the team were talking about winning the national championship," he said. "I remember thinking, `Hey, everybody says that.' But as soon as I got into camp, I saw that they meant it. Hopefully, we can do that same thing this year.
"As every game went on, you took that next step. Each game, we were one step closer to getting done what we wanted to get done. It was definitely an exciting time."
Mangold was asked what he and his teammates have been talking about.
"It's a little bit of everything," he said. "Going through summer and having a bunch of guys who are excited about the season, we talk about things. We want to get through that first test with the preseason. You say you have a great spring and a great summer, but you won't know until you get on the field and see where you really are. Every game is that much more exciting. We'll start with Miami, which will be a great challenge. Then, we have Texas, which is a game we're all excited about. You go right down the schedule and say with each game there is something exciting.
"As we go through summer, we talk about all of those things. Then, we also talk about being the Big Ten champs, the national champs and making it to the Rose Bowl. But you have to take it one step at a time. You can't look ahead. The seniors that we have on the team are working really hard to get the young guys to understand that."
After a lackluster 8-4 season, Mangold wants to help put OSU back on top of the mountain in 2005.
"I want to bring the swagger back to Ohio State, where we believe we're going to win and we go out and get it done," he said. "With the seniors and everybody else, we want to go out there with a spirit and an excitement to play Ohio State football."