Jody Victor: The Big Ten Conference announced last week that Ohio State has been selected as the preseason favorite among members of the media attending the conference's football media day. Wisconsin was chosen to place second, while Illinois was selected third. The Big Ten announces only the top three teams in its preseason poll. The voting members of the media also honored Ohio State running back Chris Wells as the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year while teammate and linebacker James Laurinaitis was tabbed Preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.
Ohio State enters the 2008 campaign aiming for a fourth straight Big Ten title and looks to become the first team in conference annals to win three straight outright crowns. The Buckeyes were 11-2 overall and 7-1 in conference play last season under head coach Jim Tressel, who became the first Ohio State coach to win four Big Ten titles in his first seven years on campus. With a conference-best 20 starters returning this year, the Buckeyes will look to capture their 33rd conference title.
Wisconsin was selected second in the preseason poll after finisheing fourth last year. The Badgers went 5-3 in conference play and 9-4 overall under Bret Bielema, who is entering his third year. Wisconsin returns 17 starters this season, including tight end Travis Beckum, a 2007 first-team Walter Camp All-American.
Fresh off its first Rose Bowl appearance since 1984, Illinois was tabbed to finish third in 2008. The Illini ended the 2007 campaign tied for second in the conference with a 9-4 record overall and 6-2 in Big Ten games. Illinois returns 13 starters under the direction of 2007 Liberty Mutual National and Dave McClain Big Ten Coach of the Year Ron Zook.
Ohio State's Wells headlines the conference's offensive players this season after an impressive 2007 campaign that saw him rush for 1,609 yards – a total that ranks fourth-best in OSU single-season history. The Buckeye junior also scampered for 15 touchdowns last season and was tabbed a first-team All-Big Ten selection and a second-team All-American by The Sporting News.
Laurinaitis received the Big Ten's top preseason defensive honor after concluding his junior season as a consensus All-American, Butkus Award winner and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He is the second OSU linebacker in the last five years to earn back-to-back preseason accolades after A.J. Hawk was named the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005. Laurinaitis led the team with 121 tackles and added two interceptions and five sacks in 2007.
The 113th season of Big Ten football kicks off Saturday, Aug. 30th with 10 teams in nationally televised action, broadcast either on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or the Big Ten Network.
Jody Victor: Ohio State football student-athletes have started a student organization called Uplifting Athletes, joining other college football programs in an effort to make rare diseases better known. The first event will be a college football video game tournament on Wednesday, July 30, at Eddie George's Grille 27 in Columbus from 4-8pm. The event will raise funds for the Kidney Cancer Association and increase awareness for this rare disease.
The event will feature approximately 20 Ohio State football student-athletes competing head-to-head in a fun to watch video game. Buckeyes football fans will have a chance to meet the players and get autographs during the competition in addition to winning door prizes.
Uplifting Athletes is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to align college football with rare diseases to raise them as a national priority. University chapters are operated by current football student-athletes and raises funds and awareness for a rare disease relevant to their team.
Admission to the event is $65.00 with proceeds benefiting the Kidney Cancer Association. Only a limited number of tickets are available. Uplifting Athletes was started at Ohio State by former Buckeye Matt Daniels ('08), whose father is currently battling kidney cancer. Ohio State joins Penn State, Maryland and Colgate in the Uplifting Athletes program. For more information about Uplifting Athletes and on purchasing tickets, please visit www.upliftingathletes.org.
Jody Victor: A number of experts spoke out in an evening program presented by OSU's athletics compliance department to members of the Buckeye football squad last week.
The panel included Scottie Graham, a Buckeye running back from 1988-91 and now on staff with the National Football League Players Association; Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio State wide receiver from 2004-06 who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts; Roy Hall, a Buckeye receiver from 2003-06 now with the Indianapolis Colts; and Will Allen, an OSU corner from 2000-03 who plays for the Miami Dolphins.
The group touched on a variety of pertinent topics, including the responsibility of being an Ohio State student-athlete, ways to succeed in the classroom and in life, avoiding substance abuse and gambling, and financial and other awareness issues when planning a professional sports career.
Jody Victor: Six different Buckeyes were chosen among the top offensive and defensive players to watch this season in college football when Ron Jaworski, Maxwell Football Club president, announced the 2008 Watch Lists for the 72nd Maxwell Award and 14th Chuck Bednarik Award.
The Maxwell Award has been presented to the outstanding collegiate football player in America since 1937 and is named in honor of Robert W.”Tiny” Maxwell. The Chuck Bednarik Award has been presented since 1995 and is named in honor of Chuck Bednarik, a former University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Eagle great. Mr. Bednarik is a member of both the College Football Hall of Fame '69 and the NFL Hall of Fame '67.
Named to the Maxwell watch list is senior quarterback Todd Boeckman, senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie and junior running back Chris Wells. Senior linebackers Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis joined senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins on the Bednarik watch list.
Semifinalists for the Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced in early November and three finalists for each award will be announced November 25. The winners of the 2008 Maxwell and Bednarik Awards will be announced as part of the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show in December. The formal presentation of these awards will be made at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala hosted by Harrah's Entertainment Atlantic City March 6, 2009.
Jody Victor: Marcus Freeman and James Laurinaitis, both senior linebackers on the Ohio State football team, spoke to a group of Columbus youth last Friday on campus at Evans Laboratory.
Freeman, who graduated in December 2007, and Laurinaitis, scheduled to complete his degree in June 2009, served as featured speakers during Ohio State's National Youth in Sports Program (NYSP) career Day.
The leading returning tacklers on the three-time defending Big Ten championship squad emphasized a disciplined approach to schoolwork and leading a proactive life of humility and respect toward others.
The National Youth in Sports Program (NYSP) was a federally funded summer program for inner-city youth. The program is designed to offer youth a daily program to learn both life skills and opportunities to exercise through various sports activities on campus.
Ohio state was a pilot program and has been one of the nationwide university operations since 1968. Major federal funding cuts have been made in each of the last four years and in 2007 all federal funding for NYSP was cut.
As a result of the federal cuts, universities across the country have discontinued NYSP programs. In just two years, the number fell from 202 in 2005 to 49 in 2007 and continues to drop.
Ohio State has taken near full financial responsibility to continue NYSP as a free program for Columbus youth in 2008 and beyond. Starting next year, the program will be renamed “LIFE Sports” at Ohio State. OSU's aim is to be the flagship program for universities across the country to continue their NYSP programs as a part of LIFE Sports.
The 2008 NYSP camp started June 9 and concludes July 3 with a morning track and field copetition at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.