Inside the Mindset of Ohio State's National Championship Defense

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterMarch 2, 2015

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Wrapping up a 15-minute non-football interview as Ohio State's de facto—and soon to be, official—captain, Joshua Perry's eyes drifted toward the Buckeyes practice field in front of him.

"You ready to get back out there?" he's asked, eight days in advance of Ohio State's first spring practice of 2015.

"Yeah," the Buckeyes linebacker replied. "That was a quick turnaround."

It sure was.

Just seven weeks ago, Ohio State was in North Texas, defeating Oregon to capture the first-ever College Football Playoff Championship. In the time since, Urban Meyer and his staff have signed the nation's seventh-ranked recruiting class, while the players' preparation has been limited to winter workouts.

But even though the Buckeyes' first spring session won't take place for another a week, that hasn't stopped a certain mindset from starting to develop inside the walls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Unsurprisingly, Ohio State's attitude relates to its defense of its national championship, although not entirely. The Buckeyes know they now have one giant target on their collective back heading into the 2015 season, but first they must worry about taking care of their own business.

"The thing that can hurt a team like this the most is rock stars," said Perry. "We had some guys who just came along in the blink of an eye. That is hard to handle because everybody's going to be patting you on the back. That's the biggest thing to be able to handle maturity-wise."

Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry.
Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry.USA TODAY Sports

Perry didn't mention names, but it's no secret that capturing a national championship can lead to celebrity status in football-crazed Columbus. Every magazine in the city seemingly featured Cardale Jones before the playoff and Ezekiel Elliott after it, while images of Joey Bosa, Jalin Marshall, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker, Vonn Bell and Perry himself have been etched into Ohio State lore, while simultaneously decorating the walls of Columbus collector stores.

Buckeye football is always king in this city. But national championships have a way of elevating Ohio State players from royalty to immortals on their campus.

Only many of those immortals have returned to attempt to defend their national title this season, the Buckeyes having lost just eight starters from last year's team. Ohio State is still loaded and a lock to be college football's top-ranked team in the preseason polls, only increasing the importance of the team's "no rock star" mindset.

"We have to watch for complacency in the program, and we're going to watch that very closely," Meyer said following the Buckeyes' national title win. "This is a very complicated machine, college football."

Complicated indeed, especially when you consider that in a sport full of 18-to-22-year-olds, Ohio State started a combined 13 freshmen and sophomores on last year's team. The Buckeyes have also already found themselves to be one of college football's most-talked-about teams this offseason, not only because of their championship status, but due to a looming quarterback competition between Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller.

So how will the Ohio State staff combat its young celebrity and ability to draw headlines at a rapid rate? According the Perry, with the same approach that led to it here the first place.

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will take a new mindset into this year's spring practice.
Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will take a new mindset into this year's spring practice.USA TODAY Sports

"The Grind is everything our program's about," Perry said, referencing the new banner that sits above the Buckeyes' practice field. "It's the friction of the program, it's breaking people down, pulverizing and making people. Shaping and sharpening. In the weight room we have iron—iron sharpens iron. It's everything we're about, it encompasses what our culture's supposed to be."

For now, Perry and his teammates still have a week before that grind takes the field, a national title defense looming, even if unspoken about. The senior linebacker, however, knows the message that will permeate throughout this year's spring practice, because he'll be one of the people sending it.

"The group of leaders that we have this year and the coaches that we have had made it clear," Perry said. "Rock stars will not be tolerated at this program."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.