Meet Mickey Marotti, Urban Meyer's Secret Weapon
On January 15, 2012—exactly 48 days after Ohio State announced Urban Meyer as its 24th head coach—the Buckeyes' newly assembled football staff stood at center court inside Value City Arena. More than 18,000 fans had come to watch Thad Matta's Buckeyes take on Indiana, but all eyes were on Ohio State's new football coach as he officially introduced his staff.
One by one, Meyer rattled off big names such as Luke Fickell, Everett Withers, Mike Vrabel, Tom Herman and Ed Warinner to a deliriously cheerful crowd.
The last coach Meyer introduced was, in his words, the most important.
“And finally, the most important hire I made on this coaching staff, to bring toughness, make sure we're in great shape and get this team ready to go—our strength coach, Mickey Marotti.”
A stocky, confident man strode toward Meyer, shook his hand and then joined the other coaches at midcourt.
It was one of the rare occasions that Marotti was in the spotlight. Over the ensuing 11 months, he faded from that spotlight and went to work—molding the Ohio State football team while putting his fingerprints all over the Buckeyes' undefeated 2012 season.
It Started in the Weight Room
Workouts with Marotti were nothing like what former strength coach Eric Lichter conducted during his six-year stint in Columbus.
In an interview with Bleacher Report, Zach Boren—the converted fullback turned middle linebacker for last year's Buckeyes—said that Lichter's workouts were very hard, but Marotti changed everything.
"It's just things like intensity. We would go in every day with his strength program not knowing what to expect. Coach Mick didn't want guys getting into a rhythm. He always wanted us to be on our toes. It shocked our bodies," Boren said. He later added, "You know, coach Mick wears everybody down. He even wore Johnny down."
That would be John Simon, who was bench-pressing 450 pounds and squatting 700 as a 17-year old high-school senior. Simon was known as one of college football's workout warriors, but the variety of Marotti's strength program even wore on the Buckeyes' strongest player.
Variety alone didn't make the workouts so difficult. Everything became a competition, and Marotti came up with unique ways to challenge his team.
Take, for instance, the St. Valentine's Day massacre workout.
At 6 a.m. on the Friday before St. Valentine's day, the Ohio State football team reported to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for its morning workout session. Every window in the state-of-the-art weight room was taped off—no one from the outside could see in, and no one on the inside could see out.
Once the players filed in, there was only one way out. They had to compete their way to freedom.
"[Marotti] wants to make your body go through new things. It was one of those things where, you know, they don't try to kill you, but they make it really, really hard.
You work out with your group, and you have to bust your butt to get out. And then there's stuff like the rope-pull, where you're competing against someone, and you have to pull somebody and you can't let them pull you."
Marotti's system worked.
When his workouts were paired with the good eating habits team nutritionist Sarah Wick installed, the Buckeyes lost 457 pounds of fat and gained 520 pounds of muscle, according to Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch.
In just eight months, Marotti turned the Ohio State Buckeyes into a stronger and faster football team.
"He's Coach Meyer's Right-Hand Guy"
Marotti's responsibilities stretched far past the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
During practice, Marotti would be on the field with the coordinators, hollering at players for mistakes or praising them for made plays.
In the locker room, he was the guy blasting the music and getting the team hyped up.
At 6 a.m. on game days, Marotti was the first person greeting the Ohio State football players after they woke up.
"When we'd go downstairs to the lobby to go on our team walk, he's the first one you see there with this glass of championship water," Boren said.
Championship water, as it turns out, is just a very tall glass of water. Its purpose, though, was twofold.
Starting with the obvious—it hydrated the players. Marotti hounds his team about the importance of staying hydrated, and he makes it priority No. 1 on game day.
Marotti recently told Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated why he takes water distribution so seriously.
"Muscles and the body function more efficiently when you are hydrated," Marotti said. "Muscles are about 70 to 75 percent water. All those intricate parts and sodium pumps. It has to be hydrated."
That first glass on game day is called championship water because it's another tool Marotti uses to focus the team.
"It's just something they've always done," Boren said. "It's there thing to not only hydrate for the day, but to get us to buy in and get our minds right before the game."
From workouts to water, Marotti was everywhere. In addition to his role as the strength coach, Marotti would know the offensive and defensive game plans inside and out.
He's involved with almost every aspect of the program.
"He's coach Meyer's right-hand guy," Boren said.
Training the Body and the Mind
When Ohio State takes the field, Meyer wants his players to give four to six seconds of relentless effort. From the moment the ball is snapped, those dressed in scarlet and gray are expected to give everything they have until they hear the whistle blow.
Meyer trusts Marotti to give his players not only the physical strength to fulfill this philosophy, but also the mental fortitude.
"Coach Meyer says that and really preaches [relentless effort], but it's really coach Mick who's the one that goes through with it," Boren said.
That's accomplished with a variety of tactics, from workouts aimed to exhaust both body and mind to challenging individual players to step up.
Talking about Marotti on ESPN's all-access feature last year, Meyer said, "I need a guy that's gonna be with them and break them down but love them up—that's gonna give them confidence, but also make sure it's real confidence, not fake confidence."
One such player was wide receiver Chris Fields. Boren said Marotti challenged Fields constantly, and that work is finally coming through this year.
Through four games in 2013, Fields is tied with Devin Smith in leading all Ohio State receivers with four touchdown catches. Now, because Marotti refused to give up on him, Fields is a walking testimonial for the younger players to either buy in or watch from the bench.
It's a small sample size for something much bigger going on in Columbus, but with Marotti at the helm, Ohio State is getting stronger physically and mentally.
* * *
Meyer is known for engineering one of college football's most dynamic spread offenses, but his teams are consistently successful because of the toughness they bring to the field.
The man most responsible for installing that toughness, whose official title is Ohio State's "Assistant AD for Football Sports Performance," is often found challenging his players in the weight room, on the practice field or from the sideline during games.
At 6 a.m. this Saturday, when members of the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes get their wake-up call, Marotti will be waiting in the hotel lobby with a smile on his face and a glass of championship water in his hand.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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