On the surface, there is little to separate one spring from the next save for a handful of new faces, some incoming freshmen and others walk-ons destined to never make a meaningful impact on Saturday afternoons.
But while that monotony might appear confined to the practice field, it can spill over to those covering the team as well. For media members, each spring brings about controlled interview situations where the same questions are seemingly asked on a year-by-year basis: who looks good, what do you think about your depth and so on.
As Yogi Berra once said, "It's like déjà vu all over again."
Covering a program like Ohio State is to learn how to try and find interesting ways to write many of the same stories over and over again. To call access to players and coaches "limited" would be an understatement of grave proportions, which results in situations where, say, the wide receivers coach is the primary source for a story about the offensive line. Information is tightly controlled; access even more so.
All of that gets throw out of the window, however, when the annual draft for the spring game rolls around. In my time covering the program, the event has proven to be the only unscripted one save for the final outcome of each game on Saturday.
Situated in the team meeting room – or in the recruiting room, as they were while the Woody Hayes Athletic Center was being renovated last season – are the team's seniors, divided up into two teams. Charged with picking the rosters, these players who are so used to exclusively taking their lessons from head coach Jim Tressel are suddenly entrusted with (what seems like) ultimate power.
Let me tell you, they love it.
On one side, the Scarlet team was clustered and discussing strategy. One player mentioned that if they were able to land both Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward that "the game is over." On the other side of the room, the Gray team and spokesman Marcus Freeman frantically tried to develop some sort of strategy.
Of course, it might have helped that Jamario O'Neal sat in with the Gray team before Tressel informed him that he was, in fact, actually on the Scarlet team. Needless to say, the Gray team was less than pleased.
By the looks on Freeman's face – and the final result – things did not turn out completely satisfactory for the Gray squad. Perhaps in desperation, Gray coach Jim Bollman found his way into the fray to offer some advice to his charges.
The sense of competition was clearly evident from the opening coin flip to decide which team would make the first selection. When the Scarlet team won, Curtis Terry headed back to his seat pumping his fist in triumph.
What transpired next more closely resembled a circus than an organized draft, with players from both sides shouting each other down in an effort to try to ensure, basically, that their team did not get screwed somehow.
At one point, the Scarlet team was trying to make a decision and someone said "Let Todd do it," referring to quarterback Todd Boeckman. At the other end of the room, a voice rang out, repeating the same phrase in a high-pitched voice.
"Kyle, that's a warning," Tressel deadpanned, looking down his glasses as the room burst out in laughter.
When the Scarlet team made Austin Spitler its first selection at the middle linebacker spot, it was pointed out that he will also spend time at fullback. James Laurinaitis then described Spitler as a "double whammy" in a soft-yet-excited voice.
After the dust had settled and the players spoke with assembled reporters, I asked Alex Boone how much time – if any – they had put into thinking out strategy for the team's selections.
The answer? No time whatsoever until they sat down to begin the draft.
Boone rode out the event as the clown prince, using his natural vocal talents to both laud his teammates and taunt his soon-to-be opponents. When the Gray team suggested a handful of trades after the drafting was completed, he gleefully shot them down – or suggested an even better one in return.
After the Gray team offered Chris Wells (who will not play due to injury), Marcus Williams and Joe Gantz for a defensive tackle – any defensive tackle – Boone first rejected the offer, then offered one player: Tom Ingham.
Ingham is a defensive end.
While it is fun to look deep into the selections made by the players for each squad and try to gain insight into which players their peers think are really the best, the truth is that the final result is always somewhat of a mixed bag.
But for one day, at least, a little character, a little flavor and, above all, a little freedom are all prevalent throughout the room and players are allowed to simply be what they are: college students who love to hassle each other.
You should've been there.