INDIANAPOLIS — The 50th-annual Big Ten Media Day was held here on July 26-27 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Day two of the event began on Wednesday with the honoring of those that have been involved with Big Ten programs and have passed away within the past year. This list included former Ohio State football players Charles Csuri, Aurealius Thomas, Don Sutherin, Dick Schafrath, Shane Olivea, John Mummey, Ivan Douglas, Gary Moeller, and Dwayne Haskins. The list also included former Ohio State Sports Information Director Marv Homan.
Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren spoke briefly about Ohio State Head Football Coach Ryan Day.
“Coach Day is an absolute leader on and off the field, an incredible football coach, and has made his imprint in a powerful fashion, not only in the Big Ten but across the country. He and his wife Christina are very involved in On Our Sleeves to increase education, advocacy in regard to childhood mental health initiatives, and they even have started and created their own Ryan and Christina Day Fund at the Pediatric and Adolescent Mental Wellness Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He’s passionate about the mental health and wellness of everyone, but especially young people.”
Coach Day addressed the media at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
One of the hot topics this week at Big Ten Media Day was the recent addition of UCLA and USC into the conference, beginning in 2024. Coach Day was optimistic about the addition of two universities on the west coast.
“It does give us a lot of juice as a conference, I think it’s exciting” Day stated. “It’s certainly a big move that I give Commissioner Warren and the Athletic Directors and Presidents a lot of credit for. It really helps our conference.”
Coach Day spoke about the three players he brought with him to Indianapolis, Ronnie Hickman, safety; Jaxon Smith-Njigba, wide receiver; and C.J. Stroud, quarterback.
“You start with Ronnie Hickman. This is a guy who’s been through a lot of adversity at Ohio State, had some injuries but then played some really good football the last couple years. He had a really good off-season, has had really good leadership. We’re going to need that veteran leadership, especially early in the season as we kick off against Notre Dame here at home.”
He then spoke about Smith-Njigba.
“Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a tremendous year last year, had a strong off-season. He’s one of the most competitive men I have been around.”
Day then touched on the leadership of Smith-Njigba.
“Well, he’s not a real talkative guy, just in terms of on the field. He kind of keeps to himself, but when he says something, people listen. When he does speak, he’s got a backbone. He’s strong in what he says and his opinions, and he believes in hard work. He believes in toughness. If you watch the way he plays, he’s tough. Winning really matters to him. He tries to win every rep when he’s out there. He doesn’t want to miss a rep. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, and he doesn’t stand for people making excuses. He doesn’t stand for people not being accountable.”
Day finished, “For somebody who isn’t real talkative or loud, he does in his own way hold guys accountable. I think his competitiveness shows that way, and he leads by playing really, really hard. I think you saw that, especially in the last game, but you saw that in other games as well, just how hard he plays.”
Finally, Day talked about starting quarterback C.J. Stroud.
“C.J. Stroud really grew last year. Going into last year, it’s amazing at this time he had not thrown a college football pass but grew as the season went on, into a Heisman Trophy finalist. This off-season, he’s really had an edge to him. He’s done a great job with his leadership. Because of that, we’ve had a really good off-season.”
Coach Day was asked about the leadership of Stroud.
“C.J. has always had very good leadership skills. He’s always had a voice. Once you go on the field and you show credibility that you can do it, you walk a little differently, and guys look at you through a different lens. I think that’s been the case.”
He continued, “I think, when you’re young and you go into a season and you haven’t played, you’re just trying to figure out a way to complete that first pass, get that first win, and you’re so focused on your job and maybe the offense. This off-season he’s done a great job of taking a bunch of guys on defense over to his house. He’s cooked for them. He’s really approached it like a coach, and that’s what leaders do, and that’s what really good quarterbacks do. For a third-year player to take that kind of approach, it has been great to see.”
Coach Day discussed the expectations for this coming season on the defensive side of the ball.
“First, we have to play winning football, and that starts with stopping the run. I think that this off-season has been excellent in terms of them installing the defense, in terms of schematics. I think our new staff has done an excellent job, Jim (Knowles, defensive coordinator) with the linebackers, Perry (Eliano) with the safeties, Tim (Walton) with the corners, and obviously Larry (Johnson) up front.
“They come back with a lot of experience, almost the entire defense is back, and really almost the entire Rose Bowl team is back from last year. We have a bit more experience there.”
Day finished, “New scheme, new coaches, all of those things are new. I think going up against them in the spring and seeing what’s happened this summer and now into the preseason, it’s been exciting to watch. There’s just an aggressiveness about them. In terms of expectations, we expect a top ten defense. When we’ve played our best football, it’s been because we played really good defense, and we’ve been balanced and played complementary football.”
Coach Day talked about the hype surrounding the Buckeyes’ season-opening game at home against Notre Dame.
“I think it’s an exciting time for our fans, an exciting time for our team. It’s obviously an exciting time for the Big Ten. I think it’s a great opportunity to play against a really good opponent. Marcus Freeman (Notre Dame Head Football Coach) does a very, very good job. He’s got a really good staff. They’re very knowledgeable, very energetic, do a great job recruiting, do a great job schematically. It’s going to be a really big challenge for us. They have a great team coming into Ohio State. All those things kind of have our guys’ attention.”
Coach Day ended the session by reflecting on last season and looking at goals for this year.
“Every year the expectations are high, and that doesn’t change based on what happened the year before. The expectation is to win them all. I said that in my opening press conference when I was named the head coach, and that’s just the way it is. Maybe at some places 11-2 with a Rose Bowl victory is a good year. It isn’t at Ohio State. Our three goals are to beat the team up north, win the Big Ten Championship, and win the National Championship. That’s our goals, and those things didn’t happen last year.”
Day closed by saying, “It doesn’t change next year or the year before, just a different team with a different group of guys, more experienced. Again, when you think about those first few games last year, we had a lot of young guys, and now we’ve gone through a whole season and off-season together, I think our guys are a little scarred, they’re a little calloused. They know what it’s like to lose a game, and that’s not fun. We remind our guys about that regularly, but we also know we have to move forward and focus on what’s coming next.”
Stroud had the opportunity to speak with the media and answer questions on Wednesday afternoon.
“If you ask me what a quarterback is, I would say a leader on and off the field. I think off the field is probably more important. Leadership is all about trust. If I have trust in my guys, they’ll do anything for me and I can do anything for them. I do invite a lot of my teammates over. Either I’ll cook something or I’ll order something, and we’ll just eat and have a good time. I definitely think it’s important to build that trust off the field.”
Smith-Njigba also spoke with the media.
“We fell short as a team last year; not making it to the playoffs, not making it to the national championship. I feel like I haven’t really done anything. I feel like I haven’t really won anything. This year, I’m looking for a change. I know I have to work to get there, so that’s my mindset.”
Hickman spoke about new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles taking the Buckeye defense to the next level.
“I think he’s gonna let us play faster. He’s gonna allow us to use our athletic ability to go make plays and be who we are. He knows that we are an athletic room, we have experience, and we are gonna use that to our advantage.”
The Buckeyes will report Aug. 3 and begin practice on Aug 4 in preparation for the season-opener against Notre Dame on Sept. 3.