Tressel Hopes Buckeyes Learned From Suffering

It has not exactly been smooth sailing at Ohio State during the past few seasons, but the highs have outnumbered the lows -- and that has head coach Jim Tressel a little bit concerned. Have the Buckeyes suffered enough to be prepared for a national championship season? The answer depends on who you ask.

It is fair to say that Jim Tressel had a few concerns on his mind when Ohio State opened fall camp. As the man in charge of a team picked as a contender for the national championship, Tressel had high expectations on his plate in addition to the usual concerns about position battles and team growth.

But included in that mix was a concern about this group of Buckeyes: had they been through enough suffering to be able to know how to handle a season of adversity? Now entering his 10th season as the head coach in Columbus, Tressel said he was not sure of the answer.

"We're going into 2010 and people are talking about we've had a lot of success the last four or five years," he said. "All the guys in our locker room, they haven't had a whole bunch of suffering, which makes me nervous because if you haven't suffered much, do you really know?"

Tressel's comments speak to the overall age of this year's team. Among the team's 22 projected starters, only four – offensive lineman Bryant Browning, linebacker Ross Homan, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and defensive lineman Dexter Larimore – were on the roster when the Buckeyes suffered a 41-14 loss to Florida to cap the 2006 season.

In addition to those four, only six more projected starters were on hand for OSU's loss to LSU in the following national championship game.

"I've always been a believer that it's hard to progress naturally," Tressel said. "When you suffer, it's a little easier to progress. Now, it sounds a little fatalistic, but I think it's true. I can think of a million of my different teams or whatever over the years that you didn't really see them get it until they had suffered a little."

As one of the few players to have lived through it, Larimore said it was difficult to accept how quickly perception of the Buckeyes changed.

"It's crazy how in four hours, everything changes," he said. "I remember on the cover of Sports Illustrated (in 2006) it said ‘The Best Ever' and then after one game it's, ‘Oh my God, Ohio State is the worst team. How could that ever happen?' It's unbelievable how that stuff could change in an instant."

That is not to say that the group of sophomores and juniors who will make up a large part of the roster have not had their share of tough moments, however. The class of 2008 that includes Terrelle Pryor, Michael Brewster and DeVier Posey suffered a disastrous loss to USC three weeks into their freshman season as well as a mid-season conference loss to Penn State and Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas.

As sophomores, the group again lost to USC and suffered an upset at the hands of Purdue but went on to capture a Rose Bowl victory against Oregon. However, the group did help the Buckeyes bring home a fifth consecutive conference championship.

The pressure is there to tie a Big Ten record this fall with a sixth straight title, but Tressel said attempting to live up to those expectations do not have as great an impact as having gone through tough times.

"Which is stronger: suffering or (a) pride factor?" he said. "My experience is suffering is more natural. I think instinctively, we as human beings … you get punched in the nose you want to do something about it. You get patted on the back, I think human-wise we have a little natural tendency to say, ‘that feels pretty good. They're right, I am pretty wonderful.'

According to senior defensive lineman Cameron Heyward, it is the responsibility of the upperclassmen to give the younger players a dose of perspective.

"There's been times when we haven't lost a bunch so we've been so blessed to be in this situation," he said. "We definitely have to improve and understand that nothing is guaranteed for us. It's going to take a lot for us to win this next Big Ten championship.

"We just have to put them in adverse situations. We've got to see how they feel when their number is called. A lot of guys haven't been battle-tested yet."

In other words, you want suffering? The fifth-year seniors on this team know suffering.

"You learn a lot from that suffering and tough losses," senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher said. "You find out a lot about who you are as a person and who we are as a team. The older guys on this team have been a part of some of those games.

"I think that's one of the jobs of these older guys is to remind them of that. I think it's easy when you walk into a program that is winning championships that things like that just happen. A lot of hard work goes into it. you're not entitled to anything in this league, so I definitely think it's on us to remind those guys that it takes a lot."

Will the lessons sink in? Check back in about four months.

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