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Published: Tuesday, 5/29/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

OSU recovers after Tressel storm

Team's future bright 1 year after coach resigns

Jim Tressel resigned as Ohio State's coach on Memorial Day in 2011 following the revelation of several NCAA rules violations. Jim Tressel resigned as Ohio State's coach on Memorial Day in 2011 following the revelation of several NCAA rules violations.

COLUMBUS -- Jake Stoneburner heard the apocalyptic forecasts for the Ohio State football program. For a moment, maybe he even believed them himself.

Last Memorial Day, May 30, Jim Tressel's resignation for covering up NCAA violations had the potential to set the Buckeyes back for years. Murphy's Law could have dropped an anvil on the football-mad school.

A multi-season bowl ban. An exodus of players and recruits. An atmosphere too toxic to hire a high-profile new coach.

All scenarios appeared on the table in the hazy aftermath of Tressel's forced exit. OSU faced a "long-lasting stain" -- a real-life scarlet letter -- declared an ESPN.com headline.

One year later, Stoneburner smiles.

"It's almost like it didn't happen," he said.

For players and fans, the hiring of Urban Meyer upended all convention. The time line for recovering from a scandal that rocked college football last year was no longer measured in seasons but days.

Given Meyer's two national championships at Florida and early recruiting successes in Columbus, a reporter lightly reminded the coach some overzealous supporters were predicting a 12-0 season this fall.

Meyer smiled, but offered no reply.

The hiring of Urban Meyer as Ohio State's new coach last autumn breathed new life into a program many predicted to fall. The hiring of Urban Meyer as Ohio State's new coach last autumn breathed new life into a program many predicted to fall.

"Everybody loved [Tressel]," Stoneburner said. "To see him get fired or resign, however you want to put it, it was tough. It's kind of crazy how it came around to everything working out. I didn't expect it to be like this, but I'm definitely happy."

The Buckeyes paid a price for violations that included eight players taking $14,000 in cash and tattoos in exchange for Ohio State memorabilia -- and Tressel knowingly playing the ineligible players in 2010.

They lost Tressel, who led the school to its first national championship in 34 years in 2002 and guided OSU to eight Bowl Championship Series games in nine years. They staggered last fall amid the turmoil and player suspensions, enduring their first losing season since 1988 under interim coach Luke Fickell. And the NCAA ensured future OSU teams would suffer. Ohio State was banned from postseason play this fall and lost nine scholarships over the next three years.

But the doomsday outcome many predicted never came to pass.

"How does Ohio State replace Tressel?" Sports Illustrated asked. "How does a school rebuild a mirage?"

The answer was Meyer, who had the cachet, resume, and Ohio ties to galvanize a fragmented fanbase.

Showing no ill effects from the health scare that contributed to his exit from Florida after the 2010 season, Meyer enlivened a program and state.

There was no migration of seniors given the chance to transfer without having to sit out a year, nor any aftershock in recruiting.

Meyer salvaged the program's spindly 2012 recruiting haul. He convinced eight players to flip their commitments to OSU in his first two months, signing a debut class ranked among the top five nationally. Another top-five finish in 2013 is almost certain, with the Buckeyes securing verbal pledges from eight of Scout.com's top 125 players.

Among fans, Meyer's approval rating is approximately equal to the percentage of citizens who like free ice cream. More than 81,000 supporters withstood windswept rain and temperatures in the 40s to watch this year's spring game at Ohio Stadium -- nearly double the attendance from last season.

Although most OSU players figured the program would not be damaged long-term -- "This is Ohio State," junior center Corey Linsley said -- few envisioned such a rapid transformation.

"I knew Ohio State was going to come through the storm," left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I didn't know how long it would take. I thought maybe we would have a longer time in-between our success. But right now, it's looking like that won't happen."

In retrospect, the St. John's graduate said he values his role in seeing OSU through the upheaval.

"There are going to be changes in life," Mewhort said. "That's inevitable. It's been good for me as a human being, just to get a little bit of adversity. In the grand scheme of things, this is going to be a great experience."

One year after Tressel's exit, however, Mewhort said it is time to move on.

"Going through everything we went through last year, it's kind of like we're reaching the light at the end of the tunnel," Mewhort said. "The season is coming."

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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