Buckeyes defending

Published 2:09 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

COLUMBUS — Ohio State players say if their rivals at Michigan are putting in extra time, they’re not alone.

So are the Buckeyes. And so is any team, they say, that wants to be any good.

Michigan’s coaching staff has been accused by a handful of current and former players — all speaking anonymously — of pushing too hard and forcing them to put in too many hours.

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Join the club, the Buckeyes said.

Ohio State captains Kurt Coleman and Doug Worthington and head coach Jim Tressel all said Tuesday that it takes extra work to compete these days in major college football — and the players who want to be great understand that.

The NCAA may have a 20-hour per week cap, but the players don’t live by that.

‘‘I think Michigan is probably abiding by the rules,’’ said Coleman, a starting safety. ‘‘But, you know, to be great you have to put in more than 20 hours. That’s just the minimum. In any great program, each player is putting in more than what they’re required to. And it’s all on their own. That’s what takes a program to the next level, when guys are going above and beyond the call of duty.’’

Worthington said that no matter what the coaches say — or the NCAA — players who want to get better will become workaholics. He said it was up to the upperclassmen to make sure that the younger players kept their noses to the grindstone.

‘‘It’s hard to be a good football team giving 20 hours, but you know the rules and that’s why leaders and captains and seniors have to make sure we keep guys after and we watch more film,’’ the starting defensive lineman said.

‘‘Do it on our time, but make sure we know it’s nothing mandatory. But if you want to be good, it takes more than just 20 hours.’’

Tressel all but said it’s useless to try to restrain players from working at a sport.

‘‘What makes it difficult is how good these kids want to be,’’ he said. ‘‘Sometimes you have to chain the doors of the Woody Hayes (football) center, you know, to get them out of there. These kids want to be good. They want to train. They want to get their buddies in there and throw the ball around, those kinds of things.’’

Tressel went to great lengths to say that he and his staff do not prescribe extra workouts for players beyond what they can meet during their allotted 20 hours per week during the season. But that doesn’t mean Ohio State’s players are only working 20 hours per week: Tressel said it’s foolish to try to rein in young, committed and ambitious athletes.

‘‘It’d be like telling our med students, ’We’re going to close the library,’’’ he said. ‘‘You’ve got to let them train. There is a fine line, but the safeguards we have are we have set schedules and forms that we fill out, just like everyone.’’

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday that the Wolverines follow the NCAA rules on required work, but his comments essentially mirrored Tressel’s: Players were so eager to work well beyond the NCAA caps that they often called Michigan’s coaches to open up the weight room.

Rodriguez installed a rigorous conditioning regimen at Michigan when he was hired after the 2007 season. While some players struggled to adapt, most credited it with improving their athleticism and several former Wolverines now in the NFL praised the program after working out at the school in the offseason.

Tressel said each time he has taken a head coaching job — in 1986 at Youngstown State and again in 2001 at Ohio State — players came up to him to tell him that under the prior regime the team had lost its discipline and toughness and needed to work harder.

‘‘So I think deep down kids want to work hard,’’ he said. ‘‘I haven’t had anyone come in and say, ’You know what, Coach? We spent too much time at it and that’s why we didn’t do as well as we wanted to do.’’’