For three years, that seemed like a pretty easy task for the current seniors on the Ohio State football team.
Though they arrived anywhere from 2006 – in the case of sixth-year senior Tyler Moeller – to 2008, the year the famed "Brew Crew" led by Michael Brewster showed up, the seniors watched Ohio State go through an almost unprecedented run of success the past few seasons including a streak of 10-win seasons, Big Ten titles and BCS bowl bids.
Then came the offseason, and we all know what happened there. But while many elder members of the Ohio State football team have talked about turning the negative of losing head coach Jim Tressel and receiving NCAA sanctions into a positive, they have also mentioned how having a successful 2011 season can help repair the image of a program seemingly in disarray.
"It's not all about us," Brewster said. "I think the big thing is we want to help the program move forward and leave it better than we found it. It's going to be a struggle, but we feel like a good season can really do that.
"It's going to be a beautiful challenge, but we'll see how it shakes out."
That message was echoed by the most senior member of the team in Moeller, who arrived five years ago as a fresh-faced linebacker/safety prospect out of Cincinnati Colerain and took redshirt season in '06 and received a medical hardship for missing the '09 season thanks to an off-the-field injury.
Having been a part of half of Tressel's run and now viewed as a key part of Luke Fickell's initial squad, Moeller knows a lot about how perception can become reality in college football. As a result, Moeller said a lot is at stake as the Buckeyes prepare to open the season Saturday vs. Akron.
"This is a big year for us," Moeller said. "This is going to define us for a couple of years to come. We have a little more fire under ourselves and, I don't want to say pressure, but we're kind of pissed off. We want to make a statement out there this year."
At the same time, Fickell knows the Buckeyes won't be able to silence all doubters, to borrow a phrase the team has embraced over the past few years. That's all right in the new coach's book, though, because he's often said talk is cheap.
He'd much rather see his Buckeyes become "Men of Action," to borrow another phrase, and Saturday's game is their first chance to do that on a large, public scale.
"They're saying the right things, but getting out and doing it I think is where the therapeutic things come," Fickell said. "And we'll let everybody else decide if that repairs our name. On the inside, you know what you're about and what the program's about. We know it's always going to be bigger than one thing or person."
That has been proven during the situation that cost Ohio State both its coach and three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Four other seniors – running back Dan Herron, wideout DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas – return after being part of the tattoo and memorabilia scandal that put the Buckeye program in a negative light nationally.
Those four will be back in game No. 6 against Nebraska, and the quartet has done its best to serve in leadership roles during fall camp. Most notable among that group are Herron, who was easily the most vocal player on the sideline and loudly encouraged his position mates after almost every play, and Posey, who drew notice from the young Buckeye wideouts for his leadership skills.
Those efforts are part of trying to get the program back on the right track.
"I've talked to DeVier a lot and we just talk about how we want to make sure, even though everything has gone on, we want to leave this place stable and in a good position," Brewster said. "I think by having a really good season this year it could make things better. That's definitely the plan."
Moeller admitted that with that burden comes pressure. The last thing the Ohio State fan base wants to see is a rough season after what has been the roughest of offseasons.
The team is buoyed by the fact, though, that taking the field is the way it can control public perception for the first time in a while.
"That'll help a lot," linebacker Nate Oliver said. "We can control that. It's good that we're playing football now. It's something that we can control."
For years, the Buckeye seniors brought notice to the school on the field with their actions. After a rough offseason brought on partly by the misdeeds of a few members of the class, the chance for redemption looms large.
"I feel like we can do something pretty special this year by overcoming what's happened," Brewster said. "It's going to be a really nice opportunity. Maybe this will be a really nice way to send us out."