COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer doesn’t need to brainstorm a clever theme for this season at Ohio State.
He can always dip back into his motivational bag of tricks if the Buckeyes need it, but right now a grading scale appears to be doing the trick all by itself.
They don’t need the evocative language of the Land of the Wolves. The Edge eventually lost some of its sharpness. The Chase couldn’t last forever since Ohio State was able to run down the trophy it was hunting. The Grind might have even accidentally backfired with the possibility of it being interpreted with a negative connotation.
But numerical grades are timeless. And if enough Buckeyes can prove they are worthy of being rated as “Fives,” that’s the clearest path to finishing this season at No. 1.
“Man, that’s every day,” defensive tackle Robert Landers said. “It’s every day, and when we first incorporated the ‘Are You a 5’ method, I really didn’t understand it. But as I’ve matured and really kind of sat down and thought about the method and what it means to be a 5, I can say that it’s a lot bigger than what people think and what I thought in the beginning.
“Everything you do, you want to be the best. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the football field, the classroom or the workforce, you have to be a fierce competitor. When you have that 5 scale, that’s exactly what that is.”
The Buckeyes actually broke it out in the middle of last season. And instead of needing any fancy T-shirts or trinkets covered with that magical digit, Ohio State staff members and players started writing the number on their arms or tape before games as a reminder of its importance.
This spring, though, it’s prominently featured on top of the huge video board that hangs next to the indoor practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. And while Meyer and his fellow motivational guru, strength coach Mickey Marotti, may cook up something more creative for this year, the straightforward approach looks like it’s going to work just fine.
In fact, even after any initial uncertainty, guys such as Landers have bought into it so completely that he can rattle off a number-by-number description for players at every level on the grading scale.
Starting from the bottom rung: “Zero is exactly what it is, you’re a zero, you don’t have any value, you don’t contribute, you are disinterested.”
The next step up isn’t much better: “One is kind of a guy who goes through the motions.”
Still not seeing the field at this level: “Two is a guy who has potential but doesn’t really live up to it.”
Getting warmer: “Three, he goes sometimes but he doesn’t go every play. He kind of picks and chooses like a light switch when he wants to turn it on and off.”
Almost there: “A Four competes, but he also doesn’t compete to his highest potential every play. He might go for plays 1 through 5, but not play No. 6.”
This is where championships are won: “When you’re a Five, even if you lose, you win. You won’t accept losing, if you lose a rep, you’re mad, disappointed and then you have that hunger, that drive, the mentality that you’re going to keep going until you win. You’re going to find a way to get a ‘W.’”
Those, of course, are what that wolf pack of Buckeyes are always chasing, grinding and looking for edges to achieve at the end of the day. By any name, the point is to be prepared to win every week by the time the season rolls around.
Talent is not a question at this point in Meyer’s tenure, since the Buckeyes have more than enough to beat every opponent they could play. But the fight against complacency is arguably the biggest battle he faces as a coach at a powerhouse program such as Ohio State, and it turns out he’s found one weapon that might have true staying power.
“Honestly, it’s more of a self evaluation,” Landers said. “You have to want to be the best at what you do.”
There’s a big, shiny trophy waiting for the absolute best in the nation at the end of the year.
And in Ohio State’s mind, it’s reserved for a Party of Fives.