Buckeyes losing their marbles
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- By the end of the season, Ohio State senior tight end Rory Nichol will lose all his marbles.
"And hopefully we'll play for all of them," he said.
Shortly before the start of the season, coach Jim Tressel gave each of the Buckeyes' seniors a case containing 12 marbles -- one for each game. Some were scarlet, some were gray (representing the school colors) and one was blue for Michigan.
Before Saturday's 43-0 victory over Youngstown State, each of the seniors gave Tressel one marble. It's something they'll do before each game.
"All year we've been talking about cherish each moment, cherish each game, don't look at next year, don't look at next game," linebacker Marcus Freeman said. "We talk about having 12 opportunities. We're not looking at a bowl game, we're not looking at anything after the Michigan game."
Most of the seniors keep a close watch on their marbles.
"I lock mine up in my locker," Freeman said. "That's something that means a lot. It probably didn't cost that much to put together but it means a lot to our seniors. ... You look at that and it really kind of hits you. That's all the games we have left."
James Laurinaitis, the Buckeyes' Butkus Award-winning linebacker, said the message has gotten through.
"Every time you play a game you take one out, you see it getting smaller and smaller," he said. "You have that mental picture: Your time's running out."
Tressel is continually trying to get his team to focus on the present and not look ahead. He gives his players inspirational books to read and phrases to memorize. A year ago, the code to unlock the doors at the team's training facility was 4114, a bitter reminder of the 41-14 beating the Buckeyes took at the hands of Florida in the 2006 national championship game.
Laurinaitis said even though it seems like ages ago, he can remember how so many of the players he looked up to watched their careers dwindle away.
"I remember freshman year coach would always say, 'These seniors here, A.J. Hawk and the others, they have a certain number of opportunities left in the 'Shoe. Let's give them your best," he said. "Then you finally realize, that's me. That's another world. You really start to truly appreciate every day."
The third-ranked Buckeyes play Ohio on Saturday. A week later, they take on top-ranked Southern California. But the marbles for both games are the same size. Each is just one more mile post on the journey.
"When (Tressel) handed those to us, it really kind of took a lot of guys by surprise," Nichol said. "You start to look at that little, tiny container that represents the rest of your career at Ohio State. The thing that we all said as seniors is that every week that we spend one of these marbles, we're going to make sure we spend it the right way."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index
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