As spring practice draws closer for the 2020 Ohio State Buckeyes, winter workouts are beginning to ramp up. Mickey Marotti, the program’s strength and conditioning coach, met with the media on Wednesday to provide an update on those workouts.
In addition to the returning players from last season’s team, 14 of Ohio State’s 24-man 2020 recruiting class have already enrolled in classes and are participating in the workouts. Marotti said it is the largest group of “mid-year” players he has ever had in winter workouts.
“From a togetherness and seriousness standpoint, these guys are ready,” Marotti said of the newcomers. “They came mentally ready for what’s coming. They came focused, they’re really into it. It’s a really good group.”
Because of the size of the early enrollees, Marotti said they have been separated from the rest of the group as they get acclimated to taking part in a major college football strength program. He said they will continue to be separated through the end of January before being integrated into the rest of the team in February.
Marotti said some players come to Ohio State already better prepared physically for the rigors of the Buckeye strength program. Five-star offensive lineman Paris Johnson Jr. was specifically identified by Marotti as a guy who has been training at a different level than most others in the class going all the way back to when Johnson was in eighth grade.
Marotti said he has noticed through the years that recruits coming from high schools in Ohio and Texas are often further along physically upon arrival because actual strength programs are common throughout high schools in those two states.
For those who are returning from last season’s 13-1 campaign, the sting from last month’s loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal still lingers throughout the program. Marotti said the team is absolutely using the loss as motivation for its preparation for 2020.
“No doubt,” Marotti said when asked if the loss is fueling the team. “There is a sign in the weight room.”
Asked what was on the sign, Marotti said it simply read the score of their Fiesta Bowl loss.
As for how effective those constant reminders of Ohio State’s shortcomings in 2019 will be, Marotti said that will be up to the team and how the players respond.
“It can be as effective as you want it to be, based on the kind of team you have,” he said.
The return of Justin Fields at quarterback will again have Ohio State among the favorites to make it back to the College Football Playoff, and according to Marotti, Fields is considerably different than he was at this time last year.
“Last year, when (Fields) showed up, he was quiet. He was trying to fit in … now, all of a sudden, he’s the starting quarterback,” Marotti said. “He’s earned the reputation of being a hard worker. He knows he’s the leader now, and he knows what needs to be done … to me, he’s completely different.”
Marotti said Fields is not currently under any restrictions in relation to the knee injury that limited him toward the end of last season.
Much of any offseason is about identifying who will fill the leadership voids left by the outgoing class. Some may think leadership comes in different forms, but Marotti said being a leader involves several different factors.
“People say, ‘Well, he’s a vocal leader.’ To me, there’s no such thing. If you’re going to be a leader, you have to have all three qualities. You have to be seen, you have to be felt, and you have to be heard. If you don’t have those three qualities, you’re not a leader.”
One void that will not need to be filled is that of linebacker and returning captain Tuf Borland. Marotti said of Borland, “You need that guy (like Borland). You just need him. He’s one of the most dependable players I’ve ever been around in 30 years … when it starts to get hard and starts getting into that fifth, sixth, and seventh week (of workouts) where you’re really grinding, you need leadership like that.”
Such leadership will be tested as the calendar turns to February, which is when Marotti’s strength program really kicks into overdrive.
“The month of February is kind of the month we hang our hats on around here,” Marotti said. “It’s dark, and it’s early, and it’s hard. It’s adverse. It’s everything you want out of it.”
For the incoming freshmen, those workouts will likely serve as a shock to their system, but Marotti said it’s just the beginning of a development process that continues all the way up until players leave the program.
“I call it perpetual development,” Marotti said. “From the time they walk in that door on the first day to the time they leave to go play in the Senior Bowl, it’s perpetual development. You’re trying to get better every day, every month, every year you’re here.”