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COLUMBUS -- It is the scarlet letter of the Ohio State football team.
Before the Buckeyes opened preseason camp earlier this month, equipment managers placed an inch-wide strip of black tape on the freshmen's helmets. It was part of a ritual coach Urban Meyer started in 2001 at Bowling Green as a fun but harmless way to initiate the new pledges.
"It all started because of the hazing," Meyer said. "It used to be a problem. They shave your head, shave eyebrows, make you drink."
OSU freshmen must instead prove themselves on the field. They do not earn their stripes until a veteran teammate -- a designated big brother -- removes the one on their helmet in a spontaneous ceremony.
"It's a rite of passage to become an Ohio State Buckeye," Meyer said. "You have to earn it."
Cornerback Devan Bogard became the first freshman to shed his stripe on Thursday, then was joined Saturday by defensive end Noah Spence.
As the freshmen were made available to reporters for the first time Sunday at Ohio State's media day, first-year players expressed the same desire to have the stripe removed.
"You're not here to be on the scout team," freshman tackle Taylor Decker said.
Added freshman receiver Michael Thomas: "We came here to play. We didn't come here to sit back and watch."
The 25-member class of scholarship freshmen represents Meyer's most patent contribution since arriving in Columbus. Swaying several highly ranked high school prospects to switch their college commitments, he transformed a pedestrian recruiting class into one ranked among the top five nationally -- and he expects the haul to yield immediate rewards.
Meyer expects a postspring depth chart that included an early enrollee freshman, redshirt freshman, or sophomore on the two-deep at 19 of 22 positions to get younger.
He said a "good chunk" of new faces will be on the field for the Buckeyes' Sept. 1 opener against Miami University. He prefers not to redshirt freshmen, saying earlier this year, "If you don't play it's because you're not good enough."
The freshmen embrace the urgency.
"You're here to try to play," Decker said. "I'm sure there's guys that redshirt that turn out to be good players, but he's been around longer than I have, so I'll trust him."
Decker is competing with senior Reid Fragel, a converted tight end, to be the Buckeyes' starting right tackle -- a battle Meyer described as tight. Others searching for early playing time include Thomas, who had a team-high 12 catches in the spring game, and the entire stock of freshmen defensive linemen.
The four line recruits were the runaway strength of the class, with defensive ends Spence and Adolphus Washington and tackles Tommy Schutt and Se'Von Pittman all ranked among the top 100 recruits by Rivals.com.
"They're all kind of bunched in there, but they've all shown good signs," Meyer said. "I think you're going to see those stripes coming off soon."