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COLUMBUS - It is a long way from the foyer of the University Plaza Hotel here in the heart of central Ohio to Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens in south Florida.
But Ohio State's 2008 football season starts here, where the Buckeyes checked in yesterday in advance of today's first practice of training camp, and in their best-case scenario, it all ends with a third straight appearance in the national championship game, scheduled to be played on Jan. 8, 2009 near the tip of the Sunshine State.
Ohio State, ranked near the top nationally in every preseason poll released so far, and the favorite to win a fourth straight Big Ten championship, took the blue-collar, lunch bucket approach as it prepared for the first day of what could be a 5 1/2-month football season.
"Everyone is saying this and that, but we just kind of block that all out," senior offensive tackle Alex Boone said. "We're going to have to make some big strides [in camp]."
Ohio State has 20 starters back from last year's team that won a Big Ten title outright and went 11-2, losing only to Illinois in the second-to-last game of the season, and in the national title game to LSU. That deep returning corps is led by the likes of Boone, linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, and defensive back Malcolm Jenkins - all of whom resisted the lure of NFL millions for one more shot at the big ring.
When you add an extremely talented incoming freshman class to all those veterans, a group led by quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 recruit, the potential for brimming with confidence is there. But as the Buckeyes walked through the doors yesterday to start their long march, Freeman said that won't be a problem, and he is intent on making every meeting and every session the team has a productive one.
"Complacency is a danger with any football team, but as leaders and as seniors, you have to focus and say this practice or this workout is what will help us get better," Freeman said. "You just gotta realize that this is a part of football - to get something out of each practice."
Senior punter A.J. Trapasso said he feels like the Buckeyes have a pretty balanced frame of mind as they enter camp - knowing they are an experienced, deep, and talented team, but also maintaining an awareness that they have not met all their goals since the last two campaigns have ended with disappointing losses in the national championship game.
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"I feel like we're doing pretty good. We've been focused all summer, put in the hard work, and we're coming together nicely," Trapasso said. "We're not over-confident, but we're confident coming into the season."
Boone said the Ohio State seniors have a determined mind-set as they enter camp in 2008, aware that this is their final opportunity to enhance their lengthy list of accomplishments.
"This is probably the only camp I've been excited for, and it should be lots of fun. It's the last one, and after this it's on to something else," Boone said. "It's my last time with the guys, but it's good to be back. This is why I came back."
The Buckeyes open the season Aug. 30 in Ohio Stadium against Youngstown State.
Contact Matt Markey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6510.39.96196 -83.00298