Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
CHICAGO – Like most of the Ohio State football team, Etienne Sabino said he had heard of the man named Urban Meyer.
He said the team knew of the former Florida coach’s credentials, a track record that was evident from Meyer’s first gig at Bowling Green to his campaign in Gainesville, Fla.
They knew of his national championships at Florida and his Southeastern Conference titles too.
Sabino, speaking during a Friday morning media session at Big Ten Media Days, said they knew all of that.
Such casual, basic acquaintance, however, didn’t do much to quell any pre-existing apprehensive feelings about meeting their new coach for the first time.
The redshirt senior linebacker said they team still didn’t know what to expect when Meyer was hired in late November 2011.
In the moments leading up to the first of many meetings between Meyer and a team of players and personalities that he just had inherited, Sabino said he still remembers the anxiety in the room before their new coach introduced himself.
“The room was very quiet,” Sabino said before pausing for a few seconds.
Then, he continued to detail the first moment he met his third coach in less than year.
“Everybody was just anxious to see what he was going to say or what was going to happen,” Sabino said. “I’m not going to say it was nerve-racking, but the suspense in the room was crazy.”
Since then, the Buckeyes football team has almost certainly familiarized itself with Meyer, and vice-versa.
Meyer’s almost obsessive emphasis on competition and intensity aided in making OSU’s past spring unlike anything Columbus had seen in its football team’s offseason in more than 10 years.
It’s something Sabino noticed, too.
“You’re not going to have any day you can just roll your helmet out there,” he said. “Sometimes you have your days that you’re kind of lagging. It’s human nature; everybody has their day where they feel like they’re lagging around. I guess with the new coaching staff, those days are almost not allowed.”
And even if they are, he says, then “you will get exposed.”
Nor have those changes been confined to football schematics, position drills or inter-squad scrimmages.
Since that first say, Sabino said, Meyer has been crystal clear in what he expects from the team.
“You, know we have this saying: ‘You act like a man, you get treated like a man.’ And that’s something, you know, I think we thrive on and that’s something he really has a lot of emphasis on,'” he said.
Senior defensive lineman John Simon said the practice of that saying is nice to see from a senior leadership perspective.
“I’ve definitely seen more people acting like a man,” said Simon, who has been named to the Lombardi, Bednarik, Nagurski and Lott IMPACT award watch lists. “You want that respect from your coaching staff and your teammates.”
Simon said that since the saying has been made a precedent, he has seen changes in some of the attitudes of his teammates.
“More people are stepping up in that maturity role and coming in extra hours of the day, or going to class maybe a day they wouldn’t go into class in the past and just acting more mature,” he said.
Senior fullback Zach Boren said acting like a man and getting treated like a man is also about “taking pride in yourself and doing what you’re supposed to do.”
“You know, if you go out each day, wake up each day and tell yourself that you’re going to become better today and you’re going to do what you’re supposed to do, then you’ll get treated like a man,” he said. It’s the guys that mess around and don’t do what they’re supposed to do and don’t do their homework or aren’t accountable that need a little leading.”
Players that stumble, Sabino said, will inevitably suffer because of their conduct.
“You take care of your business, you do what you have to do and you’ll be fine,” Sabino said. “If you mess around, you mess up, there’s going to be consequences.”
And Meyer has already delivered on his promise of those consequences this summer with the dismissal of senior linebacker Storm Klein and the suspensions of redshirt-senior tight end Jake Stoneburner and junior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort.
Stoneburner and Mewhort were arrested at about 2:30 a.m. on June 2 and charged with obstructing official business after urinating and public and subsequently running away from police.
A day later, Meyer suspended the two from the team and, on July 15, released the two from their scholarships for the summer until terms between the players and coach were successfully met.
Meyer, though, said Thursday that he tentatively expects Stoneburner and Mewhort to rejoin the team for fall camp on Aug. 3.
“They’re not reinstated yet. They’re actively working out. They have to fulfill their penance or obligation that we’ve asked them to do,” Meyer said during a Thursday afternoon press conference at Big Ten Media Days. “Obviously the kind of people that they are, the families they’re from, we did take their scholarships. They’ve had to pay for their summer school. Very expensive mistake. They’re doing what they are supposed to do.”
Similarly, Klein was arrested on July 6 and charged with domestic violence and assault. A day later, Meyer dismissed Klein through a released statement and said “his arrest and the seriousness of the allegations warranted Meyer to remove him from the team.”
For Sabino, Meyer’s “You act like a man, you get treated like a man” saying is the best way to look at life.
“You want respect you have to earn it,” he said.
He said Meyer is “a serious guy” and “a man of his word. “
“If he says something, he’s not saying it to blow smoke, he’s saying it because he means it and that’s what he feels is important,” Sabino said. “He always tells us, he doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean, he doesn’t talk just to talk.”
Sabino said he can’t help but respect something like that.
“When someone can be up front and honest with you-whether it be good or bad-I think that’s the best because there’s no gray area.”