If You Can't Beat Them, Raid Their Talent Base

Kevin StricklandCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2009

13 Oct 2001:  Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel walks the sideline in a game against Wisconsin at Ohio  Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Wisconsin won the game 20-17. DIGITAL IMAGE. MANDATORY CREDIT: TOM PIDGEON/ALLSPORT

Ohio State head football coach Jim Tressel woke up sweating, his body shaking in fear. 

Every night for months the nightmarish figures taunted his dreams. Often he screamed himself awake in terror. 

The nightmares were different but all had a recurring theme. 

One night it might be Percy Harvin dashing through his slumber waving a football as he sped into the distance. The next it could be Matt Flynn sauntering past with a crystal football tucked in his grasp. Some nights Les Miles capered through his visions giggling and hooting with his Elmer Fudd brim bobbing on his head.

But most nights it was a devilish Urban Meyer who terrorized Tressel's sleep. Meyer pointing, laughing, smirking, sneering. Meyer crushing Tressel under his boot heel and lording over him. Meyer stripping away his manhood. 

The nightmares all ended in basically the same way.  Harvin, Flynn, Miles, Meyer,  or some other southern specter would torment him and humble him and then he'd see millions of faces mocking him.  Jeering, taunting, scornful faces. 

He could hear the voices chanting: 

You've never beaten an SEC team, you even lost to South Carolina. 

Ohio State doesn't have the speed to match up with SEC teams. 

Ohio State's schedule is a joke, they don't deserve to be in the Top Ten. 

Ohio State had two chances at the BCS title and were humiliated both times, why give them another shot to look foolish?

As the chorus of voices grew louder and louder and louder, Tressel would bolt awake shivering and screaming "We do belong, we really, really do!!"  

The lack of sleep plagued him. It made Tressel edgy and he began to have trouble focusing. After months of torment, he went to a psychiatrist seeking answers.  

Five minutes into his first session, the shrink peered over his glasses at the deflated Buckeye coach and proclaimed: "To defeat your demons, you must embrace them." 

Tressel leaped from the couch, his eyes on fire. 

"Yes, yes, you've hit the nail on the head," he shouted gleefully as he charged for the door.  

Over the next months, Tressel went to Florida where the speed that torched his dreams was found. 

He didn't go to visit Meyer. Instead he went to visit recruits. 

Between 2007 and 2009, Ohio State landed more Top 50 recruits from the state of Florida than any school in the nation other than the state's big three—Florida, Miami, and Florida State. 

Eight Top 50 recruits inked with the Buckeyes over the last three years. 

In the three years prior, Ohio State signed just two Top 50 players from the Sunshine State. 

Three starters for the Buckeyes in 2009 hail from Florida. Eight members of the team's two-deep roster call Florida home. 

Tressel's nightmares haven't entirely abated. It's hard to put two straight SEC drubbings and the attendant national scorn completely out of memory.  

But the Buckeye coach can sleep better knowing that he's gone to the same recruiting well his SEC tormentors have. 

If you can't beat them at your game, beat them at theirs.