OSU defensive back Kurt Coleman is all smiles with coach Jim Tressel, but says off-season conditioning was brutal.
COLUMBUS - Late in September, when the Ohio State Buckeyes file into fall classes, if they are faced with that obligatory essay from middle school on "how I spent my summer vacation", the text might be a bit harsh, troubling, or too vivid for general consumption.
In the roughly three months from the end of spring football to the recent start of 2008 training camp, the Buckeyes were for the most part the property of Eric Lichter, whose official title is director of football performance.
His task - have them in the best shape possible when formal preparations for the coming season began about a week ago.
The consensus is that Lichter met that goal, although there were apparently no graduates from his boot camp, just survivors.
"Everybody had their will tested, every day," defensive back Kurt Coleman said about the creative and arduous conditioning regimen concocted by Lichter.
"The things that guy can think of - I'm afraid sometimes, and I don't get easily afraid," offensive lineman Alex Boone said, accenting his sarcasm with a wince.
Boone said one of Lichter's primary accomplices in the trail of torture and tears was a hill near State Route 315, on the west side of the OSU campus.
"We ran suicides up the hill, we ran sideways across the hill, and we did backwards bear crawls up the hill. It's like the most brutal thing you've ever seen," Boone said.
"[The hill] doesn t look that big, and you re looking at it and thinking this is not going to be that bad, but then you run up it and you think this is not going to happen . I think one day we did seven suicides up it, and that was after doing agility and warming up. It was unbelievable."
Senior linebacker Marcus Freeman said Lichter pushed the Buckeyes so hard that they re-established the boundaries of their physical and psychological capabilities.
"Every day you finished thinking that you could not do anything more," Freeman said. "If things had been any tougher, I m not sure we would be able to stand here and talk about it now. But we knew it would be a positive thing if we lived through it because you were building up the stamina and reserve strength that will get you through the season."
Coleman said the rigorous course of work filled the prescription for the team s success over the next five months.
"It was a real test of your will," Coleman said. "But that is just what we needed. If you go through a severe test like that, then you know you can fight through anything you run into during a game. I think it was a test of our toughness, and we showed that we were not going to break."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel shied away from the superlatives this early on the 2008 season calendar, but said he had noticed a difference in his team.
"They trained hard," Tressel said. "I don t know about it being better than ever, but it was very good. I think there were 80-some guys who made every one of the 20 [test] times. The tests we give are hard ones, but they looked good running to me. They look fast."
Boone said that although he suffered a lot throughout the summer workouts, he was willing to make the pain investment in hopes that it would provide the ultimate payoff.
"If people are going to say that they outran us or outworked us, I don t believe that," Boone said. "That s what it takes. That s what it takes to be a national champ football team, and we know that. So we don t really complain about it."
Boone said Lichter, a graduate of Weber State in Utah who is in his third year on Tressel s staff, issued a warning before the start of the summer conditioning ordeal.
"He said not only are we going to go to war, we are going to walk through the fire first, " Boone said. "And we wondered what that meant, and then boom, there you are on the hill, running up there and wondering what was going on."
FANS INVITED: Ohio State fans get a rare peek behind the curtain on Monday when the team will hold an open practice under the lights in Ohio Stadium. There is no admission charge, and the gates will open at 6:30, with the team arriving an hour later and practice commencing at 8. Parking is available in the lots adjacent to the Schottenstein Center.