COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With all the fervor of a Baptist preacher, Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson paces in front of the players and delivers a passionate explanation of “The Edge,” the program’s latest motivational mantra.
“To be elite, you’ve got to take a free fall, but you can’t be afraid to go to the edge!” Johnson booms in a speech that made the rounds on social media. “Coach says ‘jump!’ and you say ‘how far, coach, where do you want me to go?’ Every guy’s got a chance to do that today. If you’re elite, grab somebody today, take ’em with you!”
Looming over that scene at the Buckeyes’ indoor practice facility, a huge video screen runs a loop of a snarling wolf, an image that’s supposed to remind players to stay on the attack. Be the aggressor or the victim. That was the overriding theme during spring practice.
These are among Ohio State’s latest tactics to motivate millennial players in an age of social media, digital flash and diminished attention spans. They are easy-to-remember buzzwords and catchphrases, with bold imagery accompanied by hype videos usually set to hip-hop music. Last season it was “The Grind.” The year before, when Ohio State ended up winning the national championship, it was “The Chase.”
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“We have to think like an 18-year-old and that’s the challenge for our staff all the time,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I’m not trying to appeal to the 52-year-old assistant coach. The 18-year-old who has to go do his job, who has to go do very uncomfortable things, we have to appeal to them.”
Meyer develops the messages with a group that includes performance coach Mickey Marotti and Tim Kight, a pastor-turned-leadership development consultant who the coach hired several years ago to help refine the program’s message and impart it on coaches and players.
“It’s not one of those things, ‘hey, let’s try this,'” said Meyer, who is 50-4 in his four seasons at Ohio State. “They’re extremely well thought out. How do we get that human spirit, how do we solve that mystery of getting them to go as hard as they can?”
Quarterback J.T. Barrett said the team has embraced the essence of “The Edge,” which is defined as the line where average stops and elite begins.
“For me, and I think a lot of my teammates, it’s something that really hits home being that everybody can be pushed to a certain point, but wherever that point may be — and it’s different for each individual — you have to find a way to get through that. And you can’t do it by yourself,” Barrett said. “The definition is very narrowed down (for) the young guys, so it’s easy for them to understand.”
Counting down to the opening game, the coaches are pushing the players to get to “Code Green,” which designates them as game ready. “Code Green” replaced the wolf as the message on the video board this week.
Defensive end Sam Hubbard said the players who don’t subscribe to the program’s mantras are going to be left behind.
“In the past, stuff like that we’ve seen the results of it in the national championship,” said Hubbard, who backed up All-American Joey Bosa last year and will have a starting role this season. “If you act too cool for something like ‘Code Green,’ then just forget about it. You’re never going to improve.
“You’ve got to really buy into it. The results speak for themselves, when guys are going to the NFL and stuff like that. So it really does work, and I buy into it.”
Follow Mitch Stacy at http://twitter.com/mitchstacy . For some of his other recent stories: http://bigstory.ap.org/content/mitch-stacy