COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The unmistakable drumbeat and the blaring of Bruce Springsteen's voice starts five minutes before 4 o'clock on a Monday afternoon.
The team room at Ohio State has been redecorated with flags representing all the branches of the United States military and Old Glory is positioned squarely in the middle behind a podium. But the Buckeyes making their way down a hallway covered in photos of former players who have served their country don't even need to see it to tell the meeting will look and feel different, the volume on "Born in the U.S.A." is a dead giveaway.
Welcome to Patriot Week, Urban Meyer's latest off-the-field project designed to arm his team with real-life lessons and turn his personal classroom into something useful for far more than football.
"I've been mesmerized by this election coming up," Meyer said as he kicked off the first of four lecture sessions building toward Memorial Day weekend. "You have an obligation and a responsibility to this country, and you can make a difference. But the No. 1 thing, write this down, is this is about honoring the men and women who serve this country.
"I should have done something like this long before today."
No matter how long into his coaching career before the idea took hold in Meyer's brain, it arrived full force for the Buckeyes as they listened to a host of speakers on topics ranging from a first-person account of Navy SEAL training to differences between Republicans and Democrats.
They also, of course, mixed in some offseason conditioning. But even that took on a different flavor this week, with workouts started by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance -- and the color blue temporarily being allowed for the final intense session Friday morning.
"Just for this week," Ohio State player development director Ryan Stamper joked. "If you have red and white with it, then you can wear blue."
Those three colors were hard to miss around Ohio State. And thanks to the quiz looming at the end of the week, the lessons were just as difficult to ignore.
"We're doing the right thing by educating them as best as we can"
Stamper was around for the early versions of Meyer's educational "Real Life Wednesday" classes at Florida, but they hardly compare to the program he's installed since arriving at Ohio State.
And nothing Meyer has ever attempted before really matches the scale of a weeklong event like Patriot Week, though Stamper admitted he could have used one ahead of the 2008 election when he was still suiting up at linebacker for the Gators.
"I didn't vote -- I could have and I didn't," Stamper said. "I was clueless on this stuff, I wasn't educated on this stuff and I didn't embrace my right to vote.
"I thought about my parents teaching me to be a Democrat, but I had no idea why. I did it because they did it. You have to be educated on this stuff, know who you are voting for and why you are voting for them."
Armed both with his own experiences and now entrusted to help organize the week for the Buckeyes, Stamper and a handful of support staffers went to work to help ensure the same thing wouldn't happen again for Meyer's players.
Ohio State brought in a professor to highlight a handful of presidents, who opened by asking how many Commander in Chiefs had played football in college -- and endeared himself to the audience by skipping over Gerald Ford's career at rival Michigan. Current Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted addressed the importance of voting from a historical perspective, and U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley tackled some of the past legal challenges to that right. And before and after them all, Meyer himself scribbled down notes as part of an ongoing review to gear up for the big test at the end of the week.
"Some stuff may go over the heads of some of these guys," Stamper said. "But I feel like we're doing the right thing by educating them as best as we can."
"That puts it into perspective what Memorial Day is all about"
The seat on the left edge of the front row was barely being used, despite the size of the offensive lineman sitting in it. Pat Elflein was on the edge of his black leather chair, barely blinking and captivated for nearly 40 minutes by a Navy SEAL and his life story.
The incredible, hellacious challenges of training. The importance of brotherhood and developing it. The pain of losing his best friend killed in action. The SEAL (who can't be named due to an active security clearance) delivered by far the most emotional speech of the week, and it clearly resonated with the Buckeyes as they all took home the bio of a fallen soldier to write letters to their families on program letterhead.
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