College football: Ohio State players ‘hungry’ entering season

COLUMBUS — When a reporter told Ryan Day his 93-year-old mother was concerned that Ohio State’s players might believe all the hype surrounding them, Day said everyone can be assured that isn’t happening.

“I think, coming off last year, there are no big heads. This team is hungry. This team has been hungry. It’s been gritty,” Day said at his Tuesday press conference to preview the No. 2 Buckeyes’ match-up against No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

“We have to go win this first game and they know that. There are no big heads on this team right now. We’ve got a lot to prove,” he said.

The big expectations which Day said have not been a distraction include the Buckeyes being talked about as one of the top teams which could win the national championship, quarterback C.J. Stroud being one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy and Jaxon Smith-Njigba being mentioned as someone who could win the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in college football.

Also, offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr., running back TreVeyon Henderson and Smith-Njigba were named first-team preseason All-Americans by The Associated Press and offensive tackle Dawand Jones and Stroud were on the second team.

Some other things Day talked about:

• Huge game for recruiting: Day said there will be “a big number”of recruits at Saturday’s game.

“I think most of the conversation leading up to the game has been had, the recruiting has been had. Now it’s time to go play the game and just allow them to see what the atmosphere is like – playing in Ohio Stadium, a Top 10 match-up, the whole atmosphere – just take it all in and then picture themselves being on that field.

“We’ve got people flying in from all over the country to be part of this game,” he said.

• Playing Notre Dame more often: “I really don’t have many thoughts on that,” Day said.

• Recognizing the 2002 national champs: Asked about Ohio State’s 2002 national championship team being recognized at Saturday’s game, he said, “It’s really great to see those guys be recognized. Coach Tressel has had an impact on me and has been a great resource.

“I think it goes to show that if you become a national championship team at Ohio State it kind of lives for a long, long time and means so much.”

• The Knowles effect: Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles was brought in to bring change to OSU’s defense and Day has seen many changes since Knowles arrived in January.

“You could just see it building over time, the confidence of the guys. They play with a lot of decisiveness. They play with a lot of confidence and run to the ball. When you can get that pack mentality that’s when you know you’re starting to build something special on defense,” he said.

• Defensive strengths: Day said all areas of the defense have shown improvement while competing against Ohio State’s defense in preseason practice.

“When you look at the front, they are creating a lot of disruption and getting after the quarterback and causing problems up front in the run game. The linebackers are much improved. They’re seeing things and diagnosing things faster. The secondary is playing at a pretty high level.

“They’re playing with confidence. I think it’s a combination of guys on that side of the ball having more experience and embracing a new scheme,” he said.

• Coaches with OSU and ND ties: Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman is a former OSU linebacker. James Laurinaitis, another former Buckeyes linebacker, is a graduate assistant on ND’s staff and linebackers coach Al Washington had that same job at Ohio State last year. Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford was a Notre Dame assistant before he came to OSU.

“It’s interesting when you look at both staffs you have a lot of crossover,” Day said. “We have some Notre Dame folks who coached there. They have a lot of guys who were Buckeyes or coached here. It’s a small world. We’re all competitive and looking forward to Saturday night,” Day said.

Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414.

Jim Naveau has covered local and high school sports for The Lima News since 1978 and Ohio State football since 1992. His OSU coverage appears in more than 30 newspapers. Naveau, a Miami University graduate, also worked at the Greenville Advocate and the Piqua Daily Call. He has seen every boys state basketball tournament since 1977. Reach him at [email protected] or 567-242-0414.