Above the din of grunting players and encouraging managers, one coach could be heard. The message – this type of effort is what it takes to win a sixth Big Ten championship in a row.
That's a bit of a rallying cry for the Buckeye players, who are having a devil of a time going through their own version of 666 – six straight days of 6 a.m. workouts in an effort to tie the league record of six straight titles.
"That's why we do six straight of these 6 a.m. (workouts) – to keep in our mind that we need six in a row," senior running back Brandon Saine said. "By keeping it in our minds and working hard out here we can really pound (the message) in ourselves."
The initial mark was set by Ohio State, which ripped off conference titles each year from 1972-77. Those Buckeyes shared the crown every year but 1975 with Michigan, and members of those teams, from players like Archie Griffin to John Hicks to Randy Gradishar, are among the most decorated and beloved in school history.
The current era of Buckeye football, meanwhile, has had its share of big names like Troy Smith and James Laurinaitis and arguably better success. The Buckeyes won the Big Ten outright in 2006 and '07 and added another such title last year thanks to the dramatic overtime win against Iowa that sent OSU to its first Rose Bowl since 1997.
Now, the developing 2010 squad doesn't want to be the one that sees the streak end – and these workouts are one of the first steps on getting everybody aboard for that goal.
"The young guys don't typically understand that," linebacker Brian Rolle said. "Me, I've been one year as a starter. When you hear guys talking about, ‘Man, we have to get this next big ten championship,' and you know what it feels like to win one already, that makes you want to work so much harder.
"You don't want any other team in this conference to work harder than you. You don't want anybody to beat you. You don't want to get beat, so you want to come out here and work as hard as you can."
That very thought gets the Ohio State players through the tough workouts that vary from sprint and agility drills to tests of strength and stamina. Being reminded of a tangible goal such as the Big Ten title provides a carrot for when the early-morning work almost seems like too much.
"You want to win all of your games, you want to win a Big Ten championship and you want to be national champs," said defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, who spurned the NFL for his senior season in college. "It starts all through the offseason. It's not just one day, you have to do it every day."
The 6 a.m. workouts began Monday and run each morning this week through Saturday. This is the second year the Buckeyes have staged the conditioning sessions in a row after previously breaking up the work over two weeks in seasons past.
The reason for the change last year was another drive for six in a row – in that case, a historic push for a sextet of consecutive triumphs against Michigan that was realized with a 21-10 win in Ann Arbor. Rolle, who has been part of each setup on the calendar, is more a fan of the current system of consecutive days.
"This six in a row is better than doing it in two weeks because you have that break in between rather than getting us in working every day," he said. "It's just a great feeling to come in every day and work and not have to worry about somebody doing something crazy over the weekend, then coming in and trying to work out."
One final thought helps the Buckeyes focus on the conditioning sessions. This is the last week of classes for Ohio State students before the end of the quarter, and the coming end of 6 a.m. workouts means the conclusion of the term is near.
"Six days and it's spring break," Rolle said with a smile.