Milk jugs filled with sand, dirt? Buckeyes getting creative with strength training at home

Mickey Marotti says key for players is sticking to routines

Ohio State Buckeyes offensive lineman Matthew Jones has stayed at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., throughout the coronavirus pandemic and rarely ventures outside.

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However, in a story told Wednesday by Mickey Marotti, Ohio State’s assistant AD for football sports performance, Jones did go outside this spring to fill two milk jugs with dirt and sand. He needed dumbbells and had to get creative.

“He had nothing except the (stretching) bands we sent him,” Marotti said on a conference call with reporters. “He was doing presses and curls and triceps and and squats with these milk jugs.”

Tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who’s from Lindenhurst, N.Y., on Long Island, has also adapted. Marotti said Ruckert’s dad built a squat rack out of wood.

“He was so proud of it,” Marotti said.

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Marotti said Ruckert will also fill a backpack with rocks and works out with it. Other players are pushing cars and lawnmowers. Offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere was doing pull-ups on the gutter outside his home and pulled the gutter down, which didn’t please his mom.

The Buckeyes are doing whatever it takes to condition and weight train at their homes — most of them far from the comforts of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus.

It’s been just as challenging a time for Marotti, a fiery presence during practice or before games for the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer hired him. Ryan Day kept him on staff. The 2020 season, assuming it happens, will be his ninth at Ohio State.

“It’s just so hard because if you have a message for 30 players training at one time, it’s easy to give a message,” Marotti said. “They get it. They know what’s going on the next day. Then you move on to the next 30, and you’re done. Now it’s 30 separate messages and 30 different phone calls or 30 different emails and texts. It’s no doubt twice as busy as if we were still at the Woody. It’s not that you weren’t exhausted before because you always were, but it’s just like you’re spent in a different way.”

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When players left campus and returned to their hometowns, Marotti said they dealt with the first week or two fine, enjoying the unexpected family time. As the COVID-19 crisis continued, with no guaranteed end in sight, Marotti knew his players were bouncing off walls.

Talking to quarterback Justin Fields one day, Marotti said Fields was walking in circles in his living room. He told him to sit down and relax. As time has gone on, that has been easier to do as everyone has adjusted to their circumstances.

“He’s really gotten himself into a routine,” Marotti said, “and that’s what we’ve preached to our players. During this time, you have to get into a routine. You can’t stay up all night playing video games. You can’t be all over the place. You have to be in a pretty accountable routine of getting up and having breakfast and working out and doing your schoolwork and doing your meetings and just having those things throughout the day.”

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Marotti has seen “anxious despair” in the players’ attitudes turn into something promising. Still Marotti goes to bed each night hoping everyone is doing what they need to do.

“The good thing is we’ve got some great leadership,” he said. “The message that I’ve given to the players on our Zoom meetings with our staff is this: when this thing’s over — hopefully soon — whenever it does get back to some sort of normality, you’re either better or you’re worse than you were when this thing started. So I put a challenge out to our team, our coaches, our staff, everybody. You can’t make an excuse about the circumstances that we all have to deal with. There’s other people out there that are our competitors. Are they working harder than you are? I know you don’t have equipment. I know you don’t have weight. I get it. I know it’s raining outside. But at some point it’s going to be over, and again, you’re either going to be better or you’re going to be worse.”

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