Ohio State Buckeyes: Working players back into action during pandemic no easy task

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State center Josh Myers says sitting out due to COVID positive was awful

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Ohio State football’s preparations for the Sugar Bowl game Friday against Clemson feature less time and more uncertainty than they typically would.

In both cases, that is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A year ago, Buckeyes coach Ryan Day lamented having only about three weeks to prepare to face the Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl rather than the usual month or more.

This time around, that gap is just 11 days.

Last year, a quirk in the calendar was responsible.

This time, it’s a global pandemic.

Most major college football teams started the regular season late (the second or third week of September) with the Buckeyes starting later than most (the third week of October).

Once Ohio State did take the field, three games were wiped out by positive coronavirus tests or corresponding contact tracing.

The Buckeyes beat Michigan State shorthanded on Dec. 5 but were unable to play scheduled games against Illinois and Michigan the week before and the week after, respectively. A contest with Maryland also went unplayed in November because of rising case numbers for the Terrapins.

Who will be back this week remains to be seen, and who might become unavailable even the morning of the game remains impossible to know.

That is the reality in college football this season with daily COVID-19 testing creating a constant threat of someone else being removed from the depth chart.

“I think we’re doing as good a job as anybody of having a really good protocol and how to get them back safely to play, but it certainly has been a major challenge,” said Day, who himself tested positive in November and missed the Michigan State game. “Guys in; guys out — That puts a lot of stress on the guys who are in there who are taking the reps in practice. You have to practice to get better, and we haven’t had the luxury of playing in 13 games leading up to this. So we have to continue to practice.

“So that’s been one of the challenges this year, and it’s something that our guys have embraced. It hasn’t been easy, but they’ve overcome it, and here we go.”

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Josh Myers is among those to miss a game because of COVID-19, and the Buckeyes’ two-year starter at center confirmed the overall experience was a challenge.

“I gotta be honest with you guys: It is what it is, and there’s nothing I can do about it, but the process was terrible,” said Myers, a fourth-year junior from Miamisburg who said prior to the season he would do anything to be able to play for the Scarlet and Gray again. “I had to sit there for 10 days and basically do nothing. I had schoolwork and stuff I had to finish up for my internship, but other than that, I couldn’t work out because I couldn’t get my heart rate up. And so I was just sitting there, and it was 10 of probably the hardest days I’ve ever had in my life.”

Ohio State listed more than 20 players unavailable for the MSU game, though that included some players who were injured and others who did not test positive but were deemed close contacts of someone who did.

Many of those players, including Myers, were able to play two weeks later as the Buckeyes beat Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game, but Ohio State still had more than 20 players out.

Star receiver Chris Olave was among that group, which also included multiple defensive linemen, safeties and punter Drue Chrisman.

Unlike some of its Big Ten brethren, the school has refused to publish regular updates on the number of positive tests within the program or the department of athletics, so the exact number affected directly by the coronavirus is unknown to the public.

Day described the number of players unavailable at one point or another over the past few weeks because of positive tests, contact tracing or injuries as “off the charts.”

“So that has been a major challenge — trying to prepare for games but having guys come in and out of stuff,” Day said.

“We have a bunch of guys back. Guys are starting to practice now. It will be good to get some of these guys back to play on Friday night but it’s not like you just throw them back in there and they’re going 100 miles an hour again. There’s a ramp‑up to it. They didn’t really do anything for 10 days. They had to pass their cardiac test, and then you have to kind of ease them into it, especially the skill guys because of soft tissue injuries.”

Myers confirmed watching the Buckeyes beat the Spartans without him and two other starters up front was practically torturous, but he reported feeling better physically than he thought he might when he was able to suit up again against the Wildcats.

“With the Michigan State game, I was so proud and so happy for our guys on the offensive line who stepped up to the plate, but sitting there watching your own team when you have so much invested into it too, it’s awful,” Myers said. “I don’t have any other way to put it. When you invest so much and sacrifice so much and then you have to sit out, it’s hard to put into words how bad it is.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

Ohio State vs. Clemson, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410

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