A theme was already in place for Ohio State when it reported last week for an early morning session of strength coach Mickey Marotti’s winter workouts, a practical, straight-to-the-point motto that summed up the current state of the roster.
But what the “Year of Development” might have going for it in terms of factual accuracy, it was sorely lacking in motivational appeal to help energize the Buckeyes before heading out for mat drills.
So along with the video staff, Marotti cooked up something a little flashier and tacked it on at the end of a highlight film, unsure exactly how well it would be received by Ohio State’s young roster. But by the time the lights went up, the Buckeyes had themselves a new mission statement — and a new identity.
“Welcome to the Land of the Wolves,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said after wrapping up another rugged workout on Wednesday morning. “The [original] mindset is that this is the ‘Year of Development,’ but also coach Mick’s thing was the wolves — you’re going to eat or you’re going to be eaten.
“The mindset of that is, as a wolf, every day you wake up and you’re just trying to find your next meal and you’re always attacking. That’s how our program runs.”
Already a captain again for the program, Barrett has embraced the fresh approach and the chance to become a lead dog for such a youthful roster as the Buckeyes work to replace a decorated senior class and nine players who left early for the NFL draft. And in hindsight, the redshirt junior admitted that maybe Ohio State wasn’t quite as hungry heading into the offseason conditioning program at this time a year ago — on the heels of claiming a national title — as it is now.
Despite winning 12 games and the Fiesta Bowl last season, the Buckeyes are once again in position to be the hunters in the race for championships instead of the team everybody in the nation is hunting. And there is not much doubt about which way they prefer.
“It’s definitely true, after you win a national championship or any type of championship and you’re considered the best in your league or whatever the case may be, it’s kind of hard to continue to have that chip on your shoulder,” Barrett said. “You beat everybody to be the best, and then we had a lot of guys coming back, so it was like we were just going to do it again. We didn’t have that same hunger that we had, and there was just constant praise all the time.
“At the end of the day, think about it — the national championship ended in January, and we didn’t stop getting praise until probably after the second game when we didn’t play that good. Until then, it was like we were really the talk of the town, so it was hard to get guys to mentally channel their focus. In order to get what we want again, we have to have that same fight.”
That’s certainly not the only thing the Buckeyes will need in order to duplicate the kind of run they went on in 2014 with so much talent walking out the door. And with just six official starters returning to the lineup, there is certainly a greater sense of urgency this offseason to identify new contributors and prepare them to take on greater roles, in many cases without much game experience — or any at all for the 21 touted recruits who redshirted last season.
Though it is obviously going to take a significant amount of development to bring along so many first-time starters and get back to the College Football Playoff, Marotti and video ace David Trichel found a different way to describe that process in order to really get it rolling.
“We weren’t sure, because this was only last week we put this video on and all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Wow, this thing really hit a nerve,'” Marotti said. “It really hit a nerve with head coach [Urban Meyer], too, because he was jacked up. He doesn’t really like to watch those movies, because there are a lot of things that might have happened the previous year that were not very pleasant, but he was fired up.
“Two words come to mind — hungry and eager. We see that, and we want to build on that. This is just something we’re going to run with.”
The most important theme is still developing the youthful Buckeyes. But, of course, now the intent is to do it as a pack.