The past and present of Ohio football come together in the video room. Four new starters on the defensive line watch their predecessors battle in the trenches and study their techniques. The exercise is among the final preparations before the season opener against New Mexico State.
The film session is particularly enlightening, and even a bit eerie for nose guard Neal Huynh, who replaces Marcellis Williamson on the line. Williamson died of a blood clot in his lung April 27.
“Watching old film from last year, just looking at old games and learning from that, we see him a lot,” Huynh said. “It’s not weird, but it is, just seeing him.”
Huynh is one of eight new starters on defense this season. He was Williamson’s understudy the last two seasons and learned the tricks of his trade from the hefty lineman, whose 6-foot-1, 327-pound frame was matched only by his sense of humor. Huynh learned to be a leverage player and added weight this summer to give him an edge on the line of scrimmage.
“He’s not here. That hurts, but I’ve got to keep moving on,” Huynh said. “I’ve got to keep progressing as a player and as a person.”
The next step for the new-look Bobcats is Saturday’s game against the Aggies. With a new starting quarterback, running back and offensive attack, Ohio’s revamped look will be tested in the desert.
Redshirt sophomore Tyler Tettleton will start at quarterback, and Donte Harden will get most of the rushing attempts. They anchor an up-tempo offense aimed at squeezing more reps into 60 minutes of play.
“I think Tyler’s had a very good fall camp,” coach Frank Solich said. “We did redshirt him last season, and so he’s really very inexperienced, but he’s got great leadership ability. The players believe in him.”
Tettleton beat out redshirt senior Phil Bates for the starting role. Bates will take snaps as a wide receiver and as a quarterback in the wildcat formation.
Injuries have already sidelined several players. Defensive lineman Jeff King is out indefinitely, and senior linebacker Eric Benjamin has missed practice time. Tight end Derek Roback will miss at least four weeks with a back injury.
“We’ve been able to build some depth during our time here, and that will come in handy,” Solich said. “We’re relying on our depth right away going into the first game.”
Ohio starts its campaign against a struggling New Mexico State program. The Aggies have not had a winning season since 2002 and have gone 5-20 under coach DeWayne Walker, whose background is on the defensive side of the football. The team brought in former Kent State coach Doug Martin to be the offensive coordinator.
The Aggies will test a young defensive backfield and linebacker corps. Redshirt senior Noah Keller makes his return following an injury-laden season.
Geography is another obstacle for the Bobcats. Las Cruces, N.M. is 4,000 feet above sea level and more than 1,600 miles from Athens.
“You’re always a little bit concerned traveling to an away game such as this,” Solich said. “They’ve been practicing in much warmer weather than we’ve been practicing in. Hopefully we’ll line up and play well.”