By The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The weight room has been a place to retreat for the Ohio State Buckeyes this summer.
Going through workouts, the Buckeyes have tried to shut out all the bad news stemming from an NCAA investigation into a memorabilia-for-cash and tattoos scandal that has cost Ohio State its coach and its quarterback. Jim Tressel resigned in May and soon after that QB Terrelle Pryor decided to give up his senior season for a shot at the NFL.
Suddenly, the Buckeyes aren’t just getting themselves ready to run and tackle and block; they’re also surrounded by people who want to know what went wrong and how this will all end.
“You stay focused. You have tunnel vision,” linebacker Andrew Sweat said Wednesday. “Obviously, people are entitled to their opinion but you just move forward.”
From inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, it’s also been easier not to think about the impending NCAA sanctions that could take away the goals of playing for a Big Ten title or going to a bowl game.
The players are attempting to ignore the outside world, and all the talk about what was done or wasn’t done. When it comes right down to it, each player is responsible for taking care of his own business. And a player’s business is just getting ready for another season.
The Buckeyes are trying to eliminate emotion from the equation.
“If you let stuff anger you, and stuff out in the media affect what you do on a normal day, especially because we’re in here every day, it’s going to affect you and it’s going to affect the way you train,” fullback Zach Boren said. “We kind of let everything go — in one ear and out the other kind of a thing.”
Tressel has been replaced by interim coach Luke Fickell, formerly Ohio State’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. But no one really expects the Buckeyes to change much for the upcoming season. Preseason drills have followed the familiar template that was laid down the previous 10 seasons under Tressel.
The rhythm to the fast approaching season also hasn’t changed: Freshmen report on Aug. 6, veterans show up a day later, the first official practice of the preseason is Aug. 8. The opening game of the season is Sept. 3 at noon against Akron at Ohio Stadium.
But before that, Ohio State goes before the NCAA’s committee on infractions on Aug. 12. That group will decide in the following weeks whether the current Buckeyes get to play for a Big Ten title — this is the first season for a conference championship game between the two new divisions — or if they will get to play in a bowl game.
Meanwhile, there’s work to be done and the players try to keep their eyes on what they must do.
“It would definitely be something that you hope that you could have because it’s something that you’re used to, something that you look forward to during the season,” safety Orhian Johnson said, referring to playing for the league title or in the postseason. “But there’s nothing that we can do about it. It’s really out of our hands right now. All we can do is worry about Akron and starting the season off.”
Besides, with the Buckeyes losing all but three players who started on defense in the 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, there are plenty of opportunities out there. On offense, the Buckeyes are missing four starters — but have been heavily hit by suspensions. Leading-rusher Dan “Boom” Herron, No. 2 receiver DeVier Posey and starting left tackle Mike Adams are among four players (backup defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is the other) who will sit out the first five games for accepting cash and discounted tattoos from a Columbus tattoo-parlor owner. Pryor was also scheduled to sit out those games before he bolted for a possible supplemental draft.
Those left behind will try to make the most of the situation and to keep their heads up.
“I preach to the younger players if you don’t get better each and every day then none of your goals are going to happen,” Sweat said. “I try to just preach on being humble to young guys. And just be a sponge and take everything in. And work hard every day.”