New Ohio State head coach Ryan Day has plenty to worry about this season as he replaces Urban Meyer as head coach of the Buckeyes.
There are 11 games to play before Ohio State ends the season at Michigan in late November, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely put the Wolverines out of his mind.
The Buckeyes have something they do in practice just to keep the thought of the Wolverines alive.
“To honor the rivalry and respect the rivalry is to work it every day, and we do,” Day said at Big Ten Media Days. “We have periods we have in practice where we call it ‘The Team Up North Drill’ where we’ll be working in practice, so we live it every day.”
This doesn’t sound like when legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hays said if he ran out of gas in Michigan he’d push his car to the state line because he didn’t want to give that state a dime of his money.
Day said this drill comes out of respect, not hate.
“It’s something we always have in the back of our minds. We have stuff up in our facility, we respect those guys to the utmost and the program they have and we know next year is gonna be hard,” Day said. “Last year (a 62-39 Ohio State win) was a little bit of an anomaly, it got sideways, but we know it’s not gonna be easy this year, so we’re gonna have our hands full going up there.”
Senior receiver K.J. Hill understands the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, and the purpose of the “Team Up North Drill.”
“You have to know the meaning of the rivalry,” Hill said. “We just did it this morning before we got here. I’ve been doing it since I was a freshman.”
It doesn’t take much to get Hill fired up about playing Michigan. He grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, but is well aware of the rivalry between the two schools.
“I just love the tradition of it,” Hill said. “You watch all the old videos and it just fires you up to go make a play and be on one of those videos that we play forever. I just love running out, seeing the atmosphere. It gives you chills. You know what to expect.
“I definitely respect the game and I respect them.”
Hill has put together an outstanding career at Ohio State. He’s a fifth-year senior — just like Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin from the 2018 team — who could have jumped to the NFL.
He’s just 48 catches away from breaking David Boston’s 20-year-old school record of 182 career receptions. His 1,696 receiving yards put him 17th in school history, and he’s within range of finishing in the top five.
“K.J. Hill is someone who came back for his fifth year,” Day said. “We lost three senior captain wide receivers last year, and him deciding to come back was a huge deal for us.”
Hill is ready to put a cap on his career and head off to the NFL next season.
“Ohio State has plenty of great players who come through here,” Hill said. “I just want to be one of those players and be remembered.
“Mainly I want to be the leader who leads his team to a Big Ten championships.”
Many are picking Michigan to win the Big Ten this season, even though the Wolverines haven’t beaten Ohio State since 2011. The Buckeyes expected to beat the Wolverines when Meyer was the head coach, and that’s another expectation that won’t change.
The players already got a taste of Day as head coach when he stepped in early last season as Meyer served a suspension.
“With Coach Day being the head coach right now, I feel like there’s no difference,” Hill said. “He was our head coach last year for three games. He’s with the offense with me, so being with him all the time, it’s natural.
“I feel like we have the same standards and the same goals we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
And of course, the fan base has its expectations as well. In this case the expectations of the fans are in line with the expectations of the players and coaches.
“The fan base can tell you it’s a national championship every year,” Hill said. “That’s our goal. A Big Ten championship also.”
Bob Hamar is sports editor for The Independent.