Buckeyes open practice to the public

Published 3:03 am Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — On a cool, late summer night, Gene Smith slowly made his way through the lower bowl at Ohio Stadium. Everywhere he looked there were families having fun, dressed in scarlet and gray.

‘‘It’s kind of cool,’’ Ohio State’s athletic director said. ‘‘It’s a nice thing to do.’’

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In what has become a tradition, the Buckeyes held a practice open to the public on Monday night. Several thousand fans showed up, many of whom might not be able to afford the $63 it takes to see the Buckeyes open their season on Sept. 5 against Navy — and certainly not the $300 or $400 minimum price on eBay to get in the gate for the showdown a week later with Southern California.

This is the fourth year that Ohio State and coach Jim Tressel have opened the doors to a practice. The first year it was held at night at the Jesse Owens track stadium.

Originally, part of the incentive was the Buckeyes’ poor record in marquee night games.

‘‘We allegedly were horrible at night games, so we said we have to appease the critics so let’s go practice under the lights,’’ Tressel said Monday night before his team took the field. Then he cracked, ‘‘We probably lost after that, but anyway …’’

The past three years the Buckeyes have worked out at the massive, old concrete structure on the banks of the Olentangy River.

Among those who came out to enjoy the clear, cool night was Tom Smith, of suburban Powell. He brought three of his six kids, all of whom were dressed in Ohio State’s colors. His 5-year-old daughter was wearing a cheerleader outfit.

‘‘It’s a nice night,’’ Smith said while keeping an eye on his kids as field goals clanged around the metal seats nearby.

‘‘The kids’ grandfather came in from out of town to see it. It’s a good time to see him while he sees the Buckeyes, while the kids play around a little bit.’’

The Buckeyes, ranked No. 6 in the preseason, didn’t do anything overly dramatic during the practice. There was a brief scrimmage, along with placement tries, some individual receiving drills for the backs and receivers, footwork practice for the linemen and work on blocking and tackling technique.

‘‘We won’t have (contact) stuff tonight,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘But we’ll have some good ’thud’ type of things.’’

The Buckeyes return four starters on offense and seven on defense from a team that went 10-3 a year ago, sharing the Big Ten title with Penn State.

Clearly the focal point of the fans was the guy who will also be the focal point of opposing defenses, sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Flashbulbs popped whenever he dropped back to pass.

Tressel said the open practice is a change of pace at the end of two-a-days and the monotony of jousting with teammates everyday on the field.

‘‘The one thing is when you get to practice 16, the scenery hasn’t changed much. So a scenery change is nice,’’ said Tressel, who is 83-19 in his eight years at Ohio State. ‘‘There’s a little electricity in the air, even if there is 500 people. Really, change is the big thing we get out of it. Maybe it’ll infuse a little juice into the midst of (preseason), because you get tired.’’

Usually Ohio State’s practices are closed to all but a few major contributors to the university, pro scouts or supporters of the football program. Reporters usually must rely on players and coaches to deduce roster changes and injuries during workouts.

But, for at least one night, there was a breath of fresh air blowing through the program.

Midway through the practice, those in the stands started the ‘‘O-H-I-O’’ chant. It was a festive crowd.

‘‘It was kind of neat because some people got to come who don’t normally come,’’ Tressel said. ‘‘You could also see a little bounce in our guys’ step and you hadn’t seen.’’