Halfway through what can only be described as a grueling season, the Buckeyes have lots of players suffering through various injuries. While some are more severe – and public – than others, basically every player at this point in the season is nursing some sort of ailment.
"Even if a guy tells you he's feeling 100 percent, he's probably not 100 percent as opposed to at other times," OSU director of football performance Eric Lichter told BuckeyeSports.com. "It's just one of these things where week to week you've got guys that have dings, you've got guys that have other, more serious injuries. Obviously we're trying to do everything that we can week-to-week, day-to-day to get them on the field and get them ready to play on Saturdays."
As the calendar changes from the offseason to fall camp to the regular season, the team's workouts also change. Players work harder during the offseason to strengthen and condition themselves for the grind that is the Big Ten season. For example, Lichter said the team does both fewer reps and sets during the regular season than in the offseason, focusing instead on more intense training.
However, those workouts also change on a week-to-week basis during the season as the Buckeyes prepare for different teams. Lichter designs workouts that involve "building up" cycles that last for a few weeks and are then followed by an "unloading week," allowing bodies to recover a bit before another building-up cycle.
"We kind of look at the schedule and we say, ‘Ok, where is the stretch of our toughest games where we've really got to be peaked and at our strongest? Where do we have some long travel weeks where maybe we should unload the guys a little bit and demand a little bit less of them as far as total work?' " Lichter said.
This season the Buckeyes have built up during the weeks leading up to Youngstown State and Akron and unloaded as they prepared for Washington. A building-up period followed for the next three weeks, which is being followed this week by an unloading week as OSU prepares to host out-of-conference foe Kent State.
Not only are the workouts designed to make players bigger, faster and stronger, but they are also designed to help prevent injuries.
"I think everybody, playing a physical game like we do, is going to have some dings," junior linebacker Marcus Freeman said, "but I think our strength staff and our training staff does a great job of trying to massage those out and get us ready to play."
Each player has a different prescribed workout depending on how much he might be suffering from an injury. Athletes who can not perform to their usual capabilities go into what Lichter termed "rehab mode" where they try to simply get the player back on track to playing. First comes getting them to a point where they can cut and run, which is followed by agility workouts.
Doing so requires coordination between the athletic trainers and the strength staff, Lichter said.
"Usually if a guy is not going in practice, then he's either in there rehabbing or he's with us working on strengthening and functional movement and so forth," he said. "You have years where no matter what you do, the guys are going to get banged up. I still think overall as you look at it, we're pretty healthy."
The actual rehab obviously varies from person to person and injury to injury, but one fact remains constant throughout all workouts: increased strength that builds strong muscles around strong connective tissue helps prevent further risk of future injury.
"If you're loading them at 100 percent or 98 percent of their maximum capability, in season that's probably not a good idea," he said. "All the amount of work that you put in in the offseason, one of the big things you do it for is to reduce the risk of injury. Injuries happen no matter what. Out there on the football field you can see the collisions and the forces and all the things that go on, but if you get too far away from your ideal conditioned state, then you're at the highest risk for injury."
Once injured, players and coaches have to decide when a player can come back and how quickly he can do so. Reaching that decision requires an open dialogue between coach, player and training staff.
"Any player is going to tell you that they can play with a lot of things when maybe they shouldn't be just because they can get through with the pure excitement of the game," junior wide receiver Brian Robiskie said. "I think that our training staff does a great job letting you know what you should or shouldn't be doing, and they kind of relay that information to the coaches. When it comes down to it, they'll sit you down and let you know what you need to be doing."
Much of the responsibility lies with the individual player, however, to be honest to his teammates and take himself out of the game if he is not physically able to perform to a high level.
With so much on the line, though, junior tight end Rory Nicol said he can not imagine being so hurt that he would take himself out of the game.
"I'd play unless the doctor said I couldn't," he said. "That's me. I guess there's a difference. The doctor's perspective would, I'm sure, would be protecting the future of the kid, the athlete. It would be hard for me to come out of a game.
"I'd do anything for these guys, and I think that's sort of the mentality a lot of guys have. It's kind of an unselfish team."