Ohio State’s seniors had trouble adjusting to the blunt approach of coach Urban Meyer two years ago. Nearly everyone was subjected to his scathing appraisals. In his mind, they lacked motivation, discipline and unity.
But the players could hardly argue with Meyer’s critiques. They knew the tradition at OSU and realized they weren’t living up to it.
They were coming off a 6-7 season in 2011, including a listless Gator Bowl defeat to Florida. It was the most losses for the program since 1894.
The low point that year for center Corey Linsley was “probably losing to that Team Up North,” he said, meaning Michigan. “We were like, ‘Man, we haven’t lost to these guys in forever.’ I think two classes went through and never lost to them.
“I don’t think anybody really wanted to be down at the Gator Bowl. Obviously, that wasn’t our expectations going into the season back in January 2011.”
But Linsley and his classmates persevered through those tough times and have prospered under Meyer, winning a school-record-tying 22 straight games since the Gator Bowl.
Eighteen players — including nine starters — will be recognized during Senior Day ceremonies at the final home game today. The Buckeyes, who host Indiana, can clinch their second straight Big Ten Leaders Division crown and earn a spot in the conference title game with a victory.
Asked what the seniors’ legacy should be, Linsley said: “I think it will end up being that we were a bunch of hard-working guys who care. It’s been one heckuva ride. There was a lot of stuff thrown at us.
“For the guys who made it through and the guys who stuck it out — through the ups and downs — it’s absolutely been worth it. Coming through all that, we’re worlds away from where we started.”
Left tackle Jack Mewhort didn’t want to be reminded about his home finale, knowing it means his Buckeye career is coming to a close.
“I’m trying not to think about it,” he said. “I know when I run out that tunnel, it’s going to be a pretty emotional thing. I owe who I am to this university, to this program.”
Mewhort is proud his class has made the sacrifices necessary to lead the program back to national prominence.
“Maybe because I’m older, and I’m a senior, I have a sense of caring for the whole team,” he said. “And it seems like these (other seniors) care a lot. I’ve seen guys change over the last few years and really become selfless people.”
C.J. Barnett, a senior safety from Northmont High School, remembers the team having its resolve tested a couple of times after the new staff took over in January 2012.
“I would say the first was when we first got back from the Gator Bowl,” he said. “It was 5 o’clock in the morning, and we were outside (working out). It was 10 degrees — frozen tundra, freezing rain and all that kind of stuff. I think that was a moment when things started to change.
“And then I think a big moment was at Michigan State last year. Coach Meyer started a tradition where we made a toast to be ‘all in.’ Guys bought into that and opened their chest and gave the program their heart. I think from then, we’ve been a family.”
Each player will be introduced before the game, and Barnett expects to be sentimental during his jog across the field.
“I can remember the first time I ran out there against Navy in 2009, so it will be a little emotional at first. But I’ll have to get my emotions together because we have a job to do, which is to go out there and try to beat Indiana,” he said.
“We’ve had ups and downs during our time here, but we’re finishing strong. We have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done here with winning our 23rd game in a row. Hopefully, we can keep building our résumé for the senior class.”
Meyer has expressed his fondness for his seniors, and he considers himself fortunate to have had two quality classes in a row.
“Not every senior class is good. For some of them, it’s time to go. It’s time to move on to their careers,” he said. “The last two we’ve had here haven’t just been good, but great. It’s going to be real hard (to say goodbye).
“They’re led by the O-line and C.J. They’re kind of the ringleaders of that group. And Philly Brown has turned into a guy who’s earned a lot of respect around here. There wasn’t a lot of respect in his world two years ago. Same with Carlos Hyde.
“I think this group probably has more transitional guys who have made positive changes in their world.”
Indiana (4-6, 2-4 Big Ten) at Ohio State (10-0, 6-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC, 1410