As a player on a Jim Tressel led football team, we were constantly learning. There were endless handouts, slides on the projector, and even full book reports. It was as if we left class to go to football practice, and instead ended up back in class. Trust me when I say, the LAST place we wanted to be was class.
This class was about far more than football, however. This class was about life. Speak to just about any Tressel player, and he will tell you first and foremost that he went from a boy to a man while under the man’s tutelage. Football is as mental as any sport, and many games are won between the ears, just as they are on the field. The better we were prepared for the roller coaster that is a college football season, the higher the likelihood that we would ultimately be successful.
“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” -Chinese Proverb
From the outset, it is abundantly apparent that college football at the highest level is an all-out grind. We were taught from day one that through the tumultuous year-round battle, those with the most mental fortitude would prosper. Every single player in the Ohio State Buckeye locker room was a star in high school. Even the walk-ons were stellar players, deserving of a spot in the most prestigious brotherhood in America.
We were taught to push ourselves to failure, then re-evaluate and be better for it. This was true in the weight room, in mental preparation, and on the field. There were going to be players fighting for the same coveted spots, there were going to be plays which came up short, and most likely, there were going to be losses. It was not the fact that we would fail at times that was instilled into us, it was the way in which we would respond to those shortcomings that was evaluated and critiqued.
Look for the losing streaks accrued by Jim Tressel teams. You won’t find much. We were taught to turn our stumbling blocks into stepping-stones. We were a better team because of the lessons we learned in those meeting rooms.
“Keep your mind on the objective, not the obstacle.” -William Randolph Hearst
Perhaps the greatest challenge for an Ohio State football team is not handling adversity, it is handling success. As I stated before, every player in that locker room is a star. Throughout the summer, and fall camp, the improvements made by each individual and the team as a whole can be deceiving. We would hear in the media through our first few games (typically cupcakes) that we were great. We would get more confident with each win, and it was our test to manage that success. It was hard to understand that every team in America had the same goals and even wanted it as much as we did. It was drilled into us that “good is the enemy of great”, and complacency after minor successes would deter us from reaching our ultimate goal, a National Championship. The best team in America does not reach its peak until after the new year, and continual learning and improvement were vital to the goal of reaching our full potential.
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” -Anonymous
In the end, we learned that what was most important for each player and for the team was to identify our challenges and overcome them. This was true for football and for life. There was not going to be an easy road to the top of the mountain, but by all means we were going to reach the summit.
During my time at Ohio State, we never quite got there, but we got damn close. Five straight Big Ten championships and five straight BCS bowls were a decent consolation prize to that crystal ball. However, it pains me to this day to think of what could have been. We were on the precipice of being great. We were almost a dynasty. Almost doesn’t count.
The young men in the Buckeye locker room today face some great challenges. They have a new coach, a bowl ban, and a nation eager to watch them fail. It is up to them to disappoint the masses and restore Buckeye Nation to the top of the collegiate football hierarchy. There will be bumps along the way, but keeping the overarching goal in sight will be key to the ultimate glory this group can attain.
Never be afraid to be great, keep learning every day, and shock the world.