COLUMBUS, Ohio — There are a few things that a player, if he wants to succeed in a football program like Ohio State’s, has to possess, but not all of it is physical. What separates the good from the great at place where everyone is among the best in the country is not how strong or how fast you are.
Instead it often comes down to one intangible thing: How bad do you want it?
Freshman offensive lineman Michael Jordan wants it. He wants to become the second freshman to ever start along the offensive line for Urban Meyer. He enrolled early at Ohio State to put himself into a position to play this season, but now — with three weeks left before the 2016 season kicks off — he’s dialing himself in more than ever. Everything is about focusing on one goal, which is winning.
“Every day I get my mind right and I take time and get mentally focused,” Jordan said during Sunday’s media day at Ohio State. “I kind of deleted — well I didn’t delete my social media, I just deleted the app — because I don’t want to see any of that stuff. I’m trying to keep my mind focused for fall camp.
“Day in and day out, I go as hard as I possibly can.”
As the country’s 14th-ranked offensive tackle out of Plymouth High School in Canton, Mich., Jordan has grown accustomed to winning, to imposing his will on whomever he’s facing and coming out victorious. That was not always the case. The now 6-foot-6, 310-pound guard, just four short years ago, was a 189-pound high school freshman trying to make a name for himself on the wrestling mat.
It was there that he says he learned two valuable lessons.
“I don’t know how much you know about wrestling, but I wrestled at 189 pounds my freshman year,” he said. “And 189 is kind of the mix where they’re really strong, but they’re also really athletic. Anyway, my freshman year I was on varsity, and I went 4-28. I learned that I really hated losing. The next year I said ‘I’m not going to lose’ and pushed myself and I went 42-13. I learned this work ethic from wrestling.”
It’s that work ethic that has put Jordan into conversations most didn’t anticipate him being a part of this season. He’s going head-to-head with third-year sophomore Demetrius Knox and redshirt freshman Matt Burrell Jr., looking for his shot at being a starter for the Buckeyes. That trio has pushed one another to be the best they can be, but Jordan has also leaned on veterans like Pat Elflein and Billy Price when he’s found himself feeling overwhelmed.
“The chance to start as a freshman is something I’m not taking for granted. It’s an amazing thing” Jordan said. “So sometimes I overthink things. Guys like Pat and Billy and Jamarco (Jones), when I mess up on a play, the first thing they do is try and get me to calm down.
“(Urban) Meyer always says you’ve got to have a competitive spirit, so there’s definitely a friendly rivalry going on and developing among everybody. If you’re not a competitor and aren’t going to fight for a spot, what are you doing here (at Ohio State)? But everyone here has helped me with the fundamentals and the mental aspect of being a Buckeye, because sometimes as a freshman you may feel a lot of pressure.”
As far as Meyer knows, Jordan is playing, period. That’s not up for debate.
“Michael Jordan for sure is playing, that’s done,” Meyer told the media on Sunday afternoon.
Playing? Yes. Starting? Meyer wasn’t so confident.
“To be determined,” he replied quickly.
So how does Jordan take this opportunity and run with it? He says it’s all about continuing to prepare himself mentally. That’s the biggest adjustment any freshman has to make.
“The biggest adjustment has been the mental aspect. In high school, you kind of think you’ve seen it all, but then you get here and there are all these blitzes and different kinds of things,” Jordan said. “Coming in early really helped me pick it up. Fall camp has been easier.
“I think right now, for me to win the job, I just have to stop making mental errors. It’s just about going as hard as I can and not thinking too much about the mental errors.”
Simple, right? Not so much.
“That’s always easier said than done,” Jordan added. “I’m just going to work as hard as I can no matter what.”