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April 11, 2013

Buckeyes head south for spring game

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Saturday's spring game will provide Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer with the opportunity to get one last look at his team in a football setting before the start of fall camp. It will also give him the chance to revisit some college favorites.

Due to renovations taking place at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes' annual exhibition and spring practice finale will take place more than 100 miles away from home at Cincinnati's Paul Brown stadium. Having played defensive back at the University of Cincinnati in the mid-1980s, Meyer fully intends on sharing the city's hotspots with his team during its weekend visit.

"Obviously, I'm a big Cincinnati guy, so we're going to take the players to the Reds Museum," Meyer said. "We're going to give them a little taste of Cincinnati afterwards with Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter's ice cream, and some Skyline (Chili).

"We're going to do it right."

Given Ohio State's current itinerary, you'd be hard-pressed to find a Buckeyes player or coach who isn't looking forward to their trip to Cincinnati. Even cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs was more animated than usual while talking about returning to the city where he spent 16 years as the head coach at Colerain high school, and five seasons as an assistant at UC.

"I could not be more excited to be going back home to my town," Coombs said. "I'm just thrilled to be able to go down there with these kids to share that experience with them and be in that stadium. That's my town, I love that place. I'm really excited to be going home Saturday."

While renovations- Ohio Stadium is having its seats replaced- may have forced the Buckeyes down I-71 South, Saturday's exhibition could be viewed as an opportunity for Meyer and Co. With more major college programs in the area to compete with- UC, Kentucky, Louisville- it's been understandably more difficult for Ohio State to create and maintain a presence in Cincinnati, than it has been for the Buckeyes to do so in other areas of the state, such as Northeast Ohio.

"There does seem to be some type of disconnect," Coombs admitted. "Coach Meyer is working really hard to bridge whatever gap that might be. Cincinnati's a vibrant part of the state of Ohio, and we want to go down there and represent our university on Saturday and we want people to see the type of kids who play for us and how we go about business, and hopefully get excited about the Buckeyes."

As it stands, OSU's roster possesses just five players who call Cincinnati home in Joe Burger, Eric Kramer, Kevin Niehoff, Andrew Norwell, and Adolphus Washington. Only two of those players- Norwell and Washington- are currently on scholarship and have spots on the Buckeyes' two-deep depth chart.

Despite a lack of Cincinnati flavoring on his team, Meyer is confident in his program's visibility in the Queen City.

"I wasn't here in years past, but I have heard a lot of that, 'Well, we haven't done well in Cincinnati,'" he said. "I think we're doing great. I think we're killing it. Adolphus Washington- I think he could be potentially be a great player at Ohio State- And recently we've done good down there. There's really good players, and really good high school coaches.

"Coach Coombs has helped, and (tight ends and fullbacks coach) Tim Hinton obviously knows Cincinnati- he coached at UC for a long time. I went there. So I think we're doing great."

Cincinnati football will be well-represented inside of Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday, where Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis will deliver a pre-game speech to the Buckeyes, and Bearcats head man Tommy Tuberville plans to be in attendance.

Coombs- who has a son on the Bengals staff and another playing for UC- understands how his own team's presence could be uncomfortable for the Cincinnati program, but doesn't expect to hear about it from anyone.

"They're people of great character and I wouldn't expect them to be doing anything but their job," Coombs said of the Bearcats staff. "I don't think they're spending a lot of time worrying about us."

Outside of the politics, logistics, and extracurricular activities, the OSU players seem to share Meyer's enthusiasm for the location of Saturday's game. A senior, Norwell said that he's looking forward to playing his final spring game inside of his hometown.

"It makes it exciting playing somewhere else," Norwell, an Anderson high school graduate, said. "I love playing in the 'Shoe, but playing in Cincinnati hits home to me. Being from Cincinnati, it's going to be great."

A 2012 graduate of Taft high school, Washington views this weekend's trip back home as a nice reward to cap off what has been his first spring in the Ohio State program.

"It's going to be a good look to play in an NFL stadium, first and foremost," Washington said. "Spring is finally over and I'm just glad I get to end it in front of my hometown, in front of my friends and family."

Aside from the game itself, Norwell and Washington may find themselves with additional responsibilities on Saturday. Coombs joked that he'll call upon his team's two most visible Cincinnati natives to introduce their teammates to the Queen City delicatessen that Meyer craves.

"Maybe Adolphus Washington and Andrew Norwell can stand up and introduce those guys to some real food. That is part of our tradition," Coombs said. "We're going to be on the banks of the Ohio River. It is a special thing. To me, I want these kids, who haven't seen that before, to experience that too, because it is a part of Ohio, and Cincinnati's a great place."



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