Fickell excited in first year as Ohio State head coach


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Poor Luke Fickell.

The 38-year-old has plenty riding on his shoulders in his first year as Ohio State’s head coach. He doesn’t have an established quarterback. His offense will be without three starters for the first five games of the year, and his defense won’t have the player whose interception against Arkansas in January helped the Buckeyes win the Sugar Bowl.

On a personal level, he has to replace a coach that was widely regarded as one of the most successful in the country — if not in the history of college football.

That’s a lot to heap on anyone, much less someone in his first year as a head coach at any level of the game.

You wouldn’t know it by talking to Fickell, though.

“People ask me, ‘Are you nervous?’ I say, ‘No, it’s an excitement,’ ” he said in a teleconference on Tuesday. “All of our guys are extremely excited — not about what’s happened in the past but about truly being able to move forward here and starting the season.”

In other words, “TattooGate” is far from the front of Fickell’s mind as he prepares his Buckeyes for the 2011 season.

But it’s in there somewhere, no doubt about it.

Fickell spent much of his time at the podium during Big Ten media days in Chicago defending his program, saying it needs to move forward and not look back. He said he hasn’t communicated with former coach Jim Tressel, who resigned in May in the midst of an improper-benefits scandal involving players’ tattoos.

He spoke at length about controlling what he can control, and he has repeated that idea ever since.

Step one of that mantra is to find players to replace the four players suspended for Ohio State’s first five games for their involvement in the improper-benefits incident. It won’t be easy to fill the shoes of leading rusher Dan Herron and No. 2 wide receiver DeVier Posey — or the line presence of offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas — but Fickell said he doesn’t consider the situation any different than the one that arises when a quality player graduates.

“We’re not going to sit back and wait until those guys are able to come back,” he said. “Our idea is, hey, that guy steps forward, he takes his opportunity … Someone has to fight his way to get back in the lineup when they’re eligible to play. That’s kind of the attitude we make sure we push forward, and I think — and hope — it’s taken off.”

Posey appears to have embraced the concept; he told reporters during Ohio State’s media day that he is taking the opportunity to study the game more closely than he would be able to if he was on the field.

“I didn’t know how much I really knew about our offense or how much I knew about things we do as a team,” he said. “You really don’t understand things until you’re teaching them to someone else. I feel that, in that role I’ve been doing, I’ve learned a lot about us and been able to put things in perspective.”

Adams, a first team All-Big Ten selection last season, agreed, and he noted that the adversity surrounding the team in the off-season may make the Buckeyes stronger once the season begins.

“You have a choice: You can either come together or fall apart,” he told the Columbus Dispatch. “We came to Ohio State to win games. We didn’t plan on falling apart. We’re a family. We’ve all got each other’s back.”

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