The Ohio State football team held their first practice of fall camp on Thursday and did so with the kind of expectations reserved for just a tiny handful of college programs right now.
It’s not a “national title or bust” kind of situation, but don’t tell the Buckeyes that. Last year didn’t go as planned in a number of ways and this team comes into camp with several wrongs to right.
This is the kind of situation that carries plenty of pressure with it, but when done right, anticipation and excitement always outweigh pressure.
It’s the excitement that rules the day for this Buckeye team and particularly their head coach Ryan Day, who slept just fine the night before camp opened.
“Fall camp, I’m okay,” he said of his sleep schedule. “Fall camp, I’m all right. As we start getting to September 3rd, not as good.”
September 3rd is when the Buckeyes open the season against Notre Dame. It’s less than a month away and there is still a mountain of work to be done.
And for Day, that’s why the first day of camp isn’t as stressful as others. It’s a long season and the last batch of steps that need to be taken to reach the ultimate goal is so far into the future that losing sleep at this point would be foolish.
“It’s just the beginning of a long journey,” Day said of the first fall practice. “It’s the first step in a long, long journey. And there’s a lot that comes with that. There’s the personal side for families and for everybody when you go from being away in June, recruiting, doing different things. And then all of a sudden you’re home for a couple of weeks and you’re bumping into the family because they’re not used to having you in the house, and then all of a sudden you’re gone for like six, seven months. You don’t really have a day off. So there’s that part of it.”
The start of fall camp is also the start of long hours. Early mornings and late nights. Most jobs have unions to prevent such hours, but for football coaches, this is exactly what they’ve signed up for. This is what they’ve asked for. During the interview process for the job when the interviewer asks for their weaknesses, their answer is always that they care too much and they don’t know how to leave the office at a reasonable hour.
And many of them aren’t lying.
“Like anything, this job is a lot of extremes,” Day said. “But then there’s the football part of it. And that’s thinking about where you’re going and where this journey’s going to take you and what this team’s like and what it needs. But that’s the fun part. And this time of year is great. Preseason, you learn a lot about your team, you kind of hunker down, and the good thing is it’s just football for these guys. Finals are done and they don’t start again until I think the 23rd. So it’s just football for them and they can focus on that. A lot can be done over these next couple of months.”
As a head coach, Day understands the importance of these days. The pure focus on fundamentals building into the scheme and then eventually the game plan. Every rep is part of the process and there is no shortcut. But he also understands fall camp from the perspective of a player. As a quarterback at the University of New Hampshire in his playing days, fall camp was one of those things that had to grow on him.
“I did not like it as a player,” he admitted. “I remember my freshman year in the middle of camp, I felt like I was in the middle of the ocean and everywhere I looked, I couldn’t find any land. All I saw was football. And then one of the older guys put their arm around me, said, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ve been there before. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, we’re gonna get through this thing.’ And then every year it gets easier because it becomes more normal.”
Even though his playing days are over, the lessons he learned are still passed on to his players. And in doing so, they can all realize that while this may just be the first day of many, it will eventually get easier because they will get tougher.
“I talk to the freshmen about that all the time because I remember being in their shoes. And that was when there was two-a-days. There’s not two-a-days anymore, so it’s a little different, but still it’s all relative,” Day said.
“I think for the guys who just got here this summer, it’s even harder than the guys who’ve been here since January because everything’s new. And when everything’s new that kind of takes a toll on you. But I think you just talk them through it. ‘Just try to do the best you can.’ We have a big brother program where each of those young guys are assigned a big brother to be a mentor, to help them through those types of things. But even as coaches, just continue to talk to them and explain to them that it’s normal what they’re going through and try to help them that way.”