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Mark Znidar | The Columbus Dispatch | August 9, 2014

Hunger is back

ATHENS, Ohio -- Dinner from Ohio University's annual season-ending team banquet last winter had hardly been digested when a group of players got in an elevator to head to the fifth floor in Peden Stadium to talk shop with coach Frank Solich.

The Bobcats had just completed a fifth consecutive season in which they went to a bowl game, but a 7-6 record that included four losses in the last five games got them sick to their stomachs.

Josh Kristoff, a safety, was at the front of the line.


Rank East Division West Division
1. Bowling Green Toledo
2. Akron Northern Illinois
3. Ohio Ball State
4. Buffalo Central Michigan
5. Kent State Western Michigan
6. Miami (Ohio) Eastern Michigan
7. Massachusetts
Too many players on a team that had the reputation for being one of the meanest and most physical in the Mid-American Conference lost their edge or flat-out quit.

"During the season we saw a lot of things we didn't like," Kristoff said during the team's annual media day Friday. "After the bowl game we put together a three-page paper about all the things we'd like to change. We wanted the players to be held more accountable. We wanted more intensity. We wanted better practice habits."

That's what Solich wanted to hear. He has been talking about the Bobcats' leadership group, headed by captains Kristoff, safety Nathan Carpenter, running back Tim Edmond and quarterback Derrius Vick, and its commitment since spring practice.

"Obviously, we took a hard look [at what we had been doing] and some changes that we could make," Solich said. "A 7-6 record and going to a bowl game is not a ridiculous year -- we were able to avoid a losing season -- but that's not what we're all about. The seniors came up to me. They wanted to get things done at a very high level."

The coaching staff had two Navy Seals and one Green Beret talk to the players about focus, intensity and being part of a team.

"They listened," Solich said. "They want to be on top of their game. Winter conditioning was great -- what you hope for. The energy level has remained high from spring practice and now into preseason. That doesn't happen all the time. There have been no down periods. This team has a number of leaders."

In 2013, the coaches backed off during practices in order to keep the players fresh for games. Injuries claimed 13 starters the season before. But after a 49-7 loss at Louisville in the opener, Solich was questioning that strategy. The Bobcats aren't beating and banging on one another in practice, but they are playing faster. The opener is at Kent State on Aug. 30.

"We're 100 reps farther than we were at this point last year," offensive coordinator Tim Albin said.

Kristoff said that Ohio players realized after last season that they won with great effort and intensity and not pure talent.

"What happened at the end of last season was uncharacteristic of an Ohio University team," he said. "We got complacent. We heard how great we were. We got away from trying to win. We were expecting to win. You have to work harder than the other team to be the best in the MAC."

Carpenter and the players talked about returning to the brand of football they were promised when they signed out of high school.

"Coach was all open ears when we talked about this," Carpenter said. "We even came up with a motto, 'We all, we good.' That means if we're all together, we're going to be just fine. It's about brotherhood. We know we have to be more physical. We have to be a relentless team. You are how you practice. When you get down in a game, don't give up."

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