CINCINNATI — The Ohio State football team arrived in Cincinnati early and left late Saturday.
Borrowing a page from former coach Woody Hayes, who saw road trips as history and culture lessons, the Buckeyes checked off every line of an oversized to-do list. The daylong excursion included a tour of the Reds baseball museum at Great American Ballpark, a pregame speech from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, and a late-afternoon feast of chicken and ribs at Montgomery Inn. OSU staffers also arranged to treat the team to ice cream from Graeters, a Cincinnati-based ice cream maker.
"There are so many things I wish we could do here," said coach Urban Meyer, a 1986 University of Cincinnati graduate. "Coach Hayes started the tradition years ago when they would go visit a place; he’d take them around and educate the players. We just don’t have time to do that most of the time. I think that’s a great concept. It’s been a great trip."
Assistant Kerry Coombs, a Cincinnati native and longtime former Colerain High School coach, said he "couldn’t be more proud of my town."
Though Ohio State would have drawn better in Columbus — the Buckeyes averaged more than 65,000 fans for their 10 previous spring games — the crowd of 37,643 at Paul Brown Stadium exceeded most expectations. Fans filled the lower bowl and club levels while a few thousand spilled into the upper deck.
"There’s something that fills your heart when you’re a Cincinnati guy and you get a chance to come down I-71, you make the turn and you see all the buildings," Coombs said. "That was a great crowd and a beautiful day."
GRANT GETS IT: Meyer said junior linebacker Curtis Grant "solidified" his starting middle linebacker spot with a team-high eight tackles and a sack.
The marquee prize of the Buckeyes’ 2011 recruiting class, Grant started only three games his first two seasons and was benched early last fall. But given another shot this spring, Meyer said Grant has appeared a different player.
"Curtis Grant is a starting linebacker at Ohio State," Meyer said. "He solidified that today. He is a fully engaged player right now, and I take my hat off to him. He was not that way last year."
FIELD DAY: Chris Fields is looking like more than a one-hit wonder.
The senior receiver, known almost solely for his game-tying touchdown catch in OSU’s overtime win over Purdue last year, made his strongest pitch yet for a starting position this fall. On Saturday, his four catches included a five-yard touchdown grab.
"I’m going to name him starter," Meyer said. "I told him I would if he finished the spring strong."
Not bad for a guy who had 15 catches his first four seasons.
"It feels good to be one of the starters," Fields said. "I worked hard in the offseason. We all worked hard as a unit, and it seems it will pay off."
MEWHORT RESTS: Senior left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort was one of five starters held out as a precaution.
"Jack had gotten kicked in the leg the other day," Meyer said, "and I thought, ‘Why does he really need to go out for this?’"
The Buckeyes also held out linebacker Ryan Shazier, cornerback Bradley Roby, center Corey Linsley, and running back Carlos Hyde.
A LONG WALK SPOILED: Last spring, the losing team had to make the one-mile walk back from Ohio Stadium to the team’s practice facility.
On Saturday, Meyer was more lenient. The Gray team’s only penance: As last year, they will spend Friday cleaning Buckeye Grove, the rows of trees honoring Ohio State’s All-Americans outside Ohio Stadium.