When 2,500 students are on the playing field, it usually means something big has happened for the Ohio State football team.
While the Buckeyes did not pull an upset win or beat a highly ranked team, the intrasquad practice drew a large crowd for the team’s third annual Student Appreciation Day at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
The event, started by OSU football coach Urban Meyer in spring 2012, is aimed at getting students involved in the program — as with some of the approximately 2,500 who attended were invited to join the players in their stretching lines prior to practice.
Students not only stretched with the team — some even attempted field goals as their peers surrounded the play. Adam Watson, a first-year in biomedical science and Block “O” football director, said plenty of planning went into the event from the student side.
“We worked a lot with the football operations director for athletics Fernando Lovo,” Watson said. “We got to come into a practice and talk to a few guys to see what they wanted.”
The Block “O” student section tossed T-shirts to the crowd and featured some students with body paint, much like one would see at a game in Ohio Stadium.
“Ultimately, we just want to get overall involvement,” Watson said.
The finalists in the fastest student competition took their places following practice to compete and see who will race sophomore running back Dontre Wilson and senior wide receiver Devin Smith during halftime of the Spring Game scheduled for April 12. Among the winning finalists were fourth-year in sports industry Mesiah Smith, who was a member of Ohio State’s club football team in 2013.
Redshirt-junior tight end Nick Vannett said he appreciated the students coming out to support the football program.
“I can honestly say there are very few programs out there that do something like this,” Vannett said. “I think it is good that we have such a good fanbase. I think it is good for the students and for the players. Getting to meet all of the students that support us and I just think all around it is a good event.”
One OSU player in particular made his presence felt during his team’s practice, as redshirt-sophomore cornerback Eli Apple intercepted redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett twice. His performance merited the black stripe on his helmet to be removed, fully initiating him as a Buckeye.
“He played good,” Vannett said of Apple. “I saw that one hit he had on Jeff Greene and after that, pretty much sealed the deal for his black stripe coming off.”
Apple was not the only player who had a big day, as redshirt-freshman tight end Marcus Baugh caught a pair of touchdown passes from Barrett. Baugh said after the practice he is feeling much more comfortable with the offense.
“I just try to go out there and go hard … That is what I did on those plays, and J.T. put the ball on the spot,” Baugh said.
With senior tight end Jeff Heuerman out for the remainder of spring practice after having surgery on his foot, Baugh said he has the opportunity to work on his game a little more.
“It is definitely helping me work on my blocking,” Baugh said of getting more playing time. “With him being out, coach is really giving me a lot of reps on the harder blocks that last year I wasn’t too good at.”
After the spring game, the Buckeyes are slated to begin their 2014 campaign Aug. 30 against Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Kickoff is set for noon.