Ready for handoff

Mickey Marotti (right) has worked with Urban Meyer at four different coaching stops. Courtesy of UF Communications

CHICAGO -- Black Friday was accompanied by a motorcycle theme.

And while the dress code helped make the workout memorable, the leg presses and squats are still what stand out in the mind of linebacker Etienne Sabino.

A romantic holiday included two grueling hours in the weight room with all the windows blacked out for John Simon. The Ohio State defensive end still hasn't forgotten the gift he received in the form of the Valentine's Day Massacre.

Zach Boren doesn't even try to pick out just one of the sessions as the most unique.

The last one Mickey Marotti led on Wednesday before Boren and a pair of senior teammates left for Big Ten Media Days is fresh enough in his mind, and even that alone provides an example of the offseason intensity that had all three Buckeyes raving about their new strength program.

"They were all tough workouts, they were all hard," Boren said Friday morning. "Even Wednesday night before we came here we had a night run, kind of like our conditioning test, and that was hard.

"I'm actually going to say that we've had the best offseason in the history of college football. I honestly think we had that, because guys are pushing themselves that hard. I've never seen it before. I have never even come close to seeing that."

Boren has also clearly seen the results, shedding 25 pounds in an effort to become quicker and more agile, perhaps giving the Buckeyes another offensive weapon beyond just blocking at fullback.

Sabino set a goal to lose 10 pounds while building his strength, a goal he was able to check off before training camp opens next week.

Even the tireless Simon acknowledged there were sessions like the Valentine's Day Massacre that required some reliance on teammates to make it to the end.

But as challenging as all that hard work might have been, Marotti has won over the Buckeyes by turning the workouts into competitive environments the players actually considered fun.

Nicknamed events with varied routines. Loud music and dancing. Coaching screaming, dancing and throwing water bottles around the weight room.

Apparently that formula suited Ohio State just fine.

"There was always a surprise at some point, you know, whether it be inside the weight room or outside for a run, he'd trick us into thinking we were running 10 sprints when we might really be running 15," Sabino said. "It was always a surprise, and it kept you on your toes. It was really exciting.

"There might be mornings where it's 5 o'clock and you walk in there, you might be lagging or a little tired, but you walk in and the music is blasting, everybody is screaming, coaches are bumping into you, everybody is riling you up and before you know it you're hyped for the workout. I get excited just talking about it."

The results are what figure to excite Urban Meyer, and next week he'll officially get to see them up close when training camp opens after a team ceremony on Thursday when Marotti will symbolically hand over the team to the coach.

Meyer doesn't necessarily need to see the proof to believe the Buckeyes have physically improved over the summer, given his implicit trust in his strength guru. He's now worked with Marotti at four different stops, and when putting together his first staff at Ohio State to start establishing a foundation for the future, hiring him a second time was a top priority.

"I usually put [strength coach] No. 1," Meyer said of assembling a staff. "Then the offensive line coach, your [defensive] coordinator, kind of in that order. But strength coach is No. 1.

"We do things, I don't know if it's unique or different, but I put a lot on him. He's not a strength coach. He's a motivator, a disciplinarian, a guy that I will lean on about the pulse of our team -- especially him because I trust him and know him."

The Buckeyes have gotten to know him quickly as well. Even for the seniors, his offseason workouts are going to be hard to forget.