Keep it simple, freshmen

Freshmen report a week from today, and there's been a lot of talk as to who will play early and who won't. Jerry Rudzinski checks in today with some advice for freshmen -- be in shape and ready to play. He says it doesn't matter how talented you are... if you come to OSU out-of-shape, you're gonna sit.

I find I do my best when I don't over-complicate things.  Yep, I believe in the old basic "K.I.S.S" theory (or in other words, "Keep It Simple Stupid").  There is no better way to break down this year's freshman crop than putting that theory into effect. 

Which freshman will see the field in 2002?  I certainly don't have a crystal ball to answer that prior to seeing these guys on the practice field.  Reputations, publicity, statistics, coach's comments, etc. can give me an opinion, but it all goes back to the same thing each and every year:  the freshmen that will play are the ones that are in-shape and healthy.  

Sounds cliché, but cliché's always seem to turn out true.  The mechanics of Justin Zwick's throwing motion, or the electric 40-time of E.J. Underwood, or the body lean of Nick Mangold will not make-or-break a season for these guys. Are they in shape and can they stay healthy? Those are the questions that will provide the answers.

First things first…any true football coach will violently throw-up for hours when he sees his players arrive for camp out-of-shape.  It is the most disappointing, disgusting, disturbing thing imaginable.  It is a signal that the commitment is not there.  It is a sign that having a great season is not that important.  It shows laziness and an overall lack of mental toughness.  Football is like everything else in life, and first impressions are HUGE.  When these freshmen arrive and start running gassers, sprints, bag drills, etc., the coaches will watch that as closely as anything.  If a freshman is out of shape, don't write him off for his career.  Don't think he can't win games down the road at OSU.  Don't think he will never make All-American.  But don't think he will play as a true freshman.  Coaches only have 3 weeks to prepare for the opener, and an out-of-shape player gets no attention when depth charts are made.  You simply can't play a guy that can't go sideline to sideline. 

Believe me, I know this because I studied it very closely during my days at OSU.  There were so many things I couldn't control.  I couldn't control Roedell Dupree's power, or Nail Diggs' athleticism, or Courtland Bullard's vertical jump.  In fact, one can hardly control their own power, athleticism and vertical jump.  While training certainly helps, a lot of that is genetics.  The one thing I could control is my conditioning.  Coaches are always standing in front of the team saying "hard work, pay-the-price, and off-season commitment."  These coaches knew they would look somewhat hypocritical if they didn't reward the guys that worked hard, gave everything they had, and committed to bettering themselves in the off-season.  Sure, Courtland's forty-time made mine look like an offensive linemen's, but if I was impressive enough in the gassers, sprints, and bag drills, how could they take me out of the line-up.  You can never give a coach any excuse to put you on the sidelines.  Control the things you can control, and being in top physical condition when camp starts is something you can control.

This all leads to the second part of the ole' K.I.S.S. theory.  You have to stay healthy as a freshman to play.  As football players, we are taught to play hurt, but don't play injured.  During camp, there is about a week-long period in which your groin muscles feel like someone is putting a knife in them, your shoulders and neck are one big sensitive bruise, and of course the screaming headache you feel flat out does not go away.  I wish I could say those are injuries, but it is actually just being hurt.  You have to play through that stuff.  I have seen it a million times…a freshman comes in and has some homesickness, some girlfriend-sickness, and has one of the symptoms I just mentioned.  He decides to take a day off and get himself together while watching from the sidelines.  Well, if you make a habit of that, don't expect to get your name called in the season-opener.  You need every rep you can get.  You need all the film you can get.  You need all the attention you can get.  Your coach will not be giving you any attention when you are in the training room nursing something.  Again, the coach only has three weeks; he doesn't have time to feel sorry for you.  He doesn't care that you were Player of the Year in your league and broke all your schools receiving records.  He only has three weeks.

Now let me make myself clear.  I completely think there is a time to sit out.  A blown ACL is a blown ACL.  A concussion is a concussion.  A pulled hamstring is a pulled hamstring.  Those are injuries.  Pain and hurt are completely different than injuries.

Often, injuries are fluke things.  Bad timing, bad luck, and the wrong place at the wrong time all play a role in many injuries.  But it seems that arriving in shape for camp greatly reduces your chances of injuries.  Not all the time, but I would bet the farm that your chances of injury increase if you are not in shape.  The legs get tired and the feet are stuck in mud, and all of the sudden someone rolls your ankle.  Being fresh and moving your feet improves your chances of staying healthy.

All of these freshmen have the size and speed to play the game at this level.  Some will be victims of the existing depth chart and will redshirt (regardless of there conditioning and health).  Some freshmen will need a year to mature so they will redshirt (regardless of there conditioning and health).   Yet in the end, the rookies that will play are the ones the stayed healthy and impressed the coaches with their conditioning.

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