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August 30, 2013

First game nerves expected for freshmen

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Jack Mewhort thinks back to the four season openers that he's already been a part of in his Ohio State career, one thing in particular stands out to the senior left tackle. And it's not the Buckeyes' close call with Navy in 2009, nor is it his first time lining up on the Ohio Stadium turf.

"From being an offensive lineman, I always remember first games being really hot," Mewhort said. "That's the No. 1 thing that sticks out in my mind."

A close second for the Toledo native, however, is the memories that he's compiled of running out of The Horseshoe's southeast tunnel at the start of each season. With more than a 10-month distance between the Buckeyes' last game and Saturday's season starter against Buffalo, Mewhort said that he's as ready as he's ever been to start OSU's 2013 campaign.

"After going through everything that we've gone through as far as the offseason, summer workouts, and fall camp, running out of that tunnel is very gratifying," he said. "It's the best time of the year."

While this will be Mewhort's last season opener in scarlet and gray, Saturday will mark the first such experience for 24 scholarship newcomers on the OSU roster, as well as several additional walk-ons. The Buckeyes' highly-touted incoming class has been on campus for more than two months now, but there's not much that the Ohio State coaching staff can do to simulate Saturdays in The Shoe.

And if there's any trepidation on the freshmen's side when it comes to playing in front of 105,000-plus fans, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said that they'll need to rid it quickly. The second-year OSU head coach has already guaranteed that a number of first-year players will make their debuts this Saturday, including Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, and Michael Hill.

"I don't -- but I think coaches have a tendency to devalue what happens when you jog out that tunnel, especially a place like Ohio Stadium," Meyer said. "There will be a lot of deep breaths being taken and you just can't create that animal until you get that opportunity."

According to Meyer, Wilson will get his opportunity to prove himself sooner rather than later. The four-star prospect from DeSoto, Texas is listed as the Buckeyes' starting kick returner on the team's depth chart for this week, and could very well be the first Ohio State player to officially touch a football this season.

But if Wilson's not out there for the first kick that the Buckeyes receive on Saturday, it won't be because his head coach had a change of heart about his ability.

"The thing I like about Dontre is he doesn't seem fazed, but he has not done that yet. You see me jog someone else out there, you know we are having a little hyperventilating issue, which I've seen before," Meyer said. "Isn't that beautiful about young players?"

It should be noted that Wilson's Texas high school experience has helped prepare him to play in front of big crowds, with the all-purpose back having already played inside the 105,000 capacity AT&T Stadium Arlington, Texas. So while it's possible that Saturday could overwhelm him, it's certainly not likely.

In fact, the inexperience factor that OSU will deal with in its opener against Buffalo is more likely to affect the team's defensive side of the ball. Replacing eight starters -- including four defensive linemen, two cornerbacks, and two linebackers -- Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is excited to see how the young players on his unit respond.

"There are a lot of guys in that front-seven we've got high expectations for, but until they do it in front of 107,000 people we're a little anxious to see how they do it," Fickell said. "We really like what we've seen so far and the upside is incredible."

But like Fickell said, he won't really know what he has in his new players until they take the field and face an actual opponent. And given a little bit more time to reflect on what's special about season openers, that's what Mewhort is looking forward to as well.

"We got all the banging and stuff out of the way," the senior captain said. "I'm excited to get out there and play against some guys that aren't Buckeyes."

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