OSU players try to keep chins up despite bad news
College football players often have to struggle with the monotony of a long season. At Ohio State, they've also had to fight against the drip, drip, drip of continual NCAA allegations and suspensions.
Buckeyes center Mike Brewster, during preparations for this week's game at No. 14 Nebraska, said he and his teammates weren't shaken by the latest body blow - two players thought to be returning to the team this week had their suspensions lengthened because they were overpaid for summer jobs.
''We've gone through so much, at this point it's kind of like ... just keep going, keep going, keep going,'' he said.
Lots of teams talk about distractions, but for the Buckeyes those have come about as frequently as sunrises.
First, several players were suspended last December for accepting cash and free or discount tattoos from a man at the center of a federal drug-trafficking probe in exchange for Ohio State memorabilia. Then it was revealed that coach Jim Tressel knew about the players' involvement with the man, a tattoo-parlor owner, and didn't tell anyone. He was forced to resign. Shortly after that, star quarterback Terrelle Pryor left with NCAA investigators on his tail because of improper benefits.
There have been numerous other questions about the team since. But this was supposed to be a week for good news.
The four remaining players on suspension in the cash-for-Buckeyes gear case were supposed to return to the team this week after sitting out the first five games. Instead, the team was called together on Monday afternoon and interim coach Luke Fickell broke the news that two of the four - top tailback Daniel Herron and leading returning receiver DeVier Posey - are still suspended for being overpaid for summer work.
On top of all of that, the Buckeyes have looked miserable in two losses in their first five games. The latest one, a 10-7 defeat in the Big Ten opener at home against Michigan State on Saturday, was the result of an historically bad day by the offense.
No one can gauge how much the off-the-field black eyes are affecting the Buckeyes on the field.
Fickell was asked how the players reacted when he told them about the two new suspensions - which followed about 10 others- over the past 10 months.
''When we walked out of the room, they were down but hey, next morning, next play, next time - that's the motto we have got to have,'' he said. ''We go out there (for practice), there won't be a head down and there won't be anybody whining or moping. And it all starts from the top down. We won't accept it and won't allow it.''
That attitude is reflected by linebacker Andrew Sweat. Despite being repeatedly asked about the team's psyche and mood, he refused to express anything but a chipper attitude about what's ahead.
''I think it makes us stronger as men, as individuals,'' he said. ''It's not just football, I think the adversity we're facing makes us stronger people.''
Fickell's mantra is ''Get better'' - whether that means in blocking, tackling, catching, throwing, running or handling the tough things thrown at his charges.
''There's situations and things you're going to have to go through in life,'' he said. ''Do we like them? No. Do we love them? No. They are what they are. That's what's going to make us better.''
The Buckeyes do get two of those four players back. Offensive tackle Mike Adams adds some much-needed depth up front and will step in as a starter at left tackle against Nebraska. Andrew Norwell, who started while Adams was suspended, slides into the starting spot next door at guard. Jack Mewhort, who started the first five games at left guard, will now back up Norwell.
The other returning player, is backup defensive end Solomon Thomas. He isn't listed on Ohio State's two-deep chart for the game against the Cornhuskers. Thomas was one of the stars of the Buckeyes' Sugar Bowl victory over Arkansas in January - a win that was later vacated (along with the entire season) because ineligible players were allowed to participate.
''They have good players and a deep roster. I don't know how they'll play or what they'll do,'' said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, a former Ohio State player. ''We are just getting ready for what we see on film. We understand that if those players come back, they're good football players. It doesn't change anything we do.''
Last winter Brewster, a 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior, contemplated giving up his final year to jump to the NFL. Now he's had a lot thrust on him, thanks to the mistakes made by others. He has been forced to provide guidance to younger players confused by all the mayhem going on around them.
''It's a challenge. It's definitely a challenge,'' he said. ''But it's something that not only myself but all of these guys can grow from. Like coach Fick said, `If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life then it's not such a bad life.' We're just going to keep fighting, keep getting better.''
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