The Ohio State football team officially reported for fall camp this week. For a player, the next few weeks can be described many ways; treacherous, long, tough , demanding, grueling, in other words a real b****.
As much as they dread the routine, they at the same time, are excited that the season is just around the corner and the first big step toward a championship is taking place. The physical and mental grind on the athlete is neutralized by the anticipation of the first game and the dream of a national championship.
The first two weeks of August camp are always the most physical of the season. The players must show the coaches they are capable of getting the job done by the end of August two-a-days. The staff can't wait around for someone to mature during the season. There is no time to think "potential" at this point.
Only those who have proven their worth in the past or earn a coveted spot on the "two deep" can be given the bulk of practice reps by the conclusion of fall camp. The coaches must feel confident the cream rises to the top by the time two-a-days are over. The top 11 on defense along with each of their backups must be identified prior to the first game. There is little time for experimentation at this point.
For an incoming freshman, the burden seems unbearable. First of all, they better report in outstanding physical condition. The collegiate game is much faster than at the high school level. They must be ready to go hard every play from day one.
Besides the pure speed and quickness of the game, it is much more physical. The guy across from you is probably stronger than anyone you've ever played against at the high school level. Plus, many of them have now been in the college strength program for quite some time. At a place like Ohio State, your teammates are, more often than not, faster and stronger than anyone you have seen in high school.
Believe me, they won't take it easy on a "tenderfoot" even though he's on the same team. The bottom line for a freshman is, "Don't play like one." As Coach Cooper used to say, "If a dog is going to bite you, he'll bite you as a pup." Early impressions are critical in athletics; a freshman must know that going into fall camp.
Besides the physical nature of the sport, the mental is as equally challenging for the freshmen. Offensively, the number of formations and plays, the terminology, the check system, and even some techniques are just a few things that must immediately be mastered. The components of defense are equally as demanding for a freshman. The multiple defensive fronts, the multiple coverages, short yardage defense, and the various blitz packages must be completely understood.
For a freshman, the game goes 90 miles an hour physically and mentally. It is even more complex position by position. That is why it sometimes takes even the greatest of high school "superstars" a while to earn a varsity spot at the collegiate level.
Many of the emotions and anxieties felt by the players are also present in the coaching staff. The biggest difference, however, is that the staff feels the pressures associated with their key enemy -- time. There is not enough of it. Any way you slice the cake; the mountain of work that has been done prior to the kickoff against the Miami RedHawks seems insurmountable.
Practice plans, personnel decisions, final scouting reports on opponents, recruiting meetings and notebook preparation are just a few things on the agenda of a Division I coaching staff. Too many things and never enough time.
The first major agenda for the coaches prior to the first August practice is to put together their installation calendar. In other words, the order in which to implement the various components of offense, defense and the kicking game. This is a coordinated effort on the part of all the coaches. For example, you can't put in the goal line offense until the goal line defense is in place. The staff has each practice defined period by period and minute by minute.
The offensive and defensive staffs have decided by the start of two-a-days, what things have been eliminated from spring practice and what is to be kept. These strategies have been decided by what has been successful or can be successful in direct correlation between the abilities of the athletes and the strengths of the opponents. Even though additions and modifications will take place as the season continues, the foundation for the 2005 Buckeye offense and defense are set in place in August.
The philosophy of the coaching staff is to put in as much of the notebook as possible, while all the time, continually emphasizing and coaching the fundamentals. The magic is in making the players handle all of this without losing confidence and playing the game full throttle every play. The best coaches know how to balance these forces by the particular talent and abilities of their players that particular year.
The bottom line is, "August football practice is really the same as it has always been."
Offensive and defensive strategies run their cycle. The names and faces change but the routine really doesn't. Hard work, sweat, fatigue, frustration, bumps and bruises and anxiety are all parts of the "dog" days of football camp. It's tough, but that's not bad.
Through all the suffering and anguish, something miraculous does take place. Individuals gain confidence in themselves and the guys next to him. They develop pride and a sense of accomplishment. They learn how to handle pressure and to react to the unexpected. They become mentally alert and doggedly determined to succeed. Holy Smokes! They become a "team."
And for those of us that have been there, done that, suffered and survived – we wish we could do it all one more time!
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley, an OSU assistant coach for 17 years, provides insights through columns and Chat sessions on Bucknuts.com on a regular basis. Coach Conley's first Chat for the new season will be on Mon., Aug. 15, at 3 p.m. He will preview the 2005 season with his next column on Wed., Aug. 24.
And, in case you missed it, here was Bill's first column one week ago on Eddie George's long odyssey to the 1995 Heisman Trophy.