College football: Ohio State lineman details season’s pain endured week by week

Nagging injuries, constant aches are part of price Jack Mewhort, teammates pay to play football

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Eric Albrecht | DISPATCH
Jack Mewhort greets athletic director Gene Smith while getting treatment for his right knee after the Illinois game.

 

As Columbus rejoiced in Ohio State’s football victory over Michigan, earned seven hours earlier, Jack Mewhort lowered his massive body into a tub of 40-degree water.

Mewhort knew only inflammation, not celebration. The Buckeyes’ starting left offensive tackle sat in the frigid water to soothe aching joints and muscles as part of his preparation for the Big Ten championship game in one week.

The recovery process for Mewhort continued the next day, as it did every Sunday after a game this season when the senior’s 6-foot-6, 306-pound body ached.

Players reported to team head athletic trainer Doug Calland and his staff of four football trainers on Sundays for treatment. They also went through an hourlong noncontact practice and lifted weights, although linemen had the option of waiting until Mondays to lift.

Exercising a day after a game helps flush the lactic-acid buildup from the bodies, aiding the soreness.

So does the contrast of getting in hot tubs and cold tubs. OSU trainers and coaches also stressed constant hydration and good nutrition.

Mewhort, a team captain and second-team All-American from Toledo, said he never took pain medication stronger than occasional ibuprofen during the season.

Health is a relative term when you play 13 college-football games in 15 weeks. All players hurt as bumps, bruises, strains, cuts and worse accumulate. A warrior’s ethic exists.

“Your body is the sacrifice you give to your team. The pain comes second,” Mewhort said.

Mewhort chronicled the sacrifice by talking each week to The Dispatch about how his body felt after playing every game. His season-long account:

Sept. 1 – One night after a 40-20 season-opening win over Buffalo:

“It was one of the hotter games I’ve ever played in, and the humidity definitely added a little to the strain of it. I came out of it pretty clean. When I first woke up today at 9:30 (a.m.), I was sore all around. You get hit with soreness the next morning. That’s when it hits you the hardest. Once you get up and move around, it wears off a little. I have typical big-guy stuff, lower-back and knee soreness, but I don’t have any injuries.”

Sept. 8 – The morning after a 42-7 win over San Diego State:

“My right leg is killing me right now. It hurts to even walk. I got leg-whipped yesterday in the third quarter. I was going to make a cut block. I got the man down, and I think his knee hit the back of my lower leg. I didn’t leave the game or anything, but it hurt pretty badly. I had it on my mind for a few plays. I got it wrapped on the sideline, and I was good the rest of the game. The game is moving so fast, you don’t have time to worry about it.”

Sept. 15 – One night after a 52-34 win at California:

“My leg didn’t affect me when I was playing, and I came through pretty healthy. I got rolled up on in the second quarter. We were on the goal line, where it’s a mishmash. Everybody down there is falling over each other. Andrew Norwell put a guy on his back, and he ended up falling on my right ankle. At the time, my adrenaline was pumping, and I didn’t even realize it. The ankle didn’t swell up. It’s nothing serious. I played 94 plays on offense, which is a little more than usual. After the game, I was kind of stiff, and then I stiffened up more. I had a little joint discomfort. To be honest, sitting on a plane is not the place you want to be.”

Sept. 23 – Two days after a 76-0 win over Florida A&M:

“I played a quarter, maybe 20 plays, if that. Twenty plays don’t wear on you like 94 does. It was a chance to rest our legs a little bit. Right now is the time when you’re starting to develop football-type of shape to play a lot of plays. Your body is getting used to the wear and tear. I’m callusing up a little bit. Nothing is bothering me. I feel great right now as we enter Big Ten play. I’m exactly where I want to be.”

Sept. 29 – One night after a 31-24 win over Wisconsin:

“Everybody is pretty beat up after that one. When you play a team like Wisconsin, it’s always a physical game, especially in the trenches. I’ve got bumps all over my forearms. I have soreness in my elbows, shoulders and knees. Luckily again, I have no big injuries, just a lot of scrapes and contusions. I have some big bruises. They’re kind of points of pride in the locker room. All of us are looking at them and showing them off. Those bumps and bruises heal during the week. I’ll get new ones next week. It’s just the cycle.

“I have a little bit of head-ringing. I don’t want to say it’s like a concussion, but definitely after a good hard hit or game like that, you feel it up top. That comes with the territory of playing offensive line. I’d feel like I was selling the team short if I didn’t have that feeling. To me, it’s kind of a relief to know you left it all out there.”

Oct. 7 — Two days after a 40-30 win at Northwestern:

“I’m doing great. No major injuries, but my elbows and knees are sore. One play ended with a guy rolling up on my right knee. It was a little scary, but I was all right. That’s why I wear huge knee braces. I was blocking my guy and watching two other guys. It’s kind of an offensive lineman’s little fear. To prevent stuff like that, you have to keep your feet moving. When something like that happens, you take it as a reminder. This bye week is a relief. The turnaround is so fast. The weeks start flying by. The mental stress starts to wear on you. But now we’ve got 12 days until the next game. I got out of bed yesterday feeling like an old man, but knew it was the bye week and I have time to get right.”

Oct. 21 — Two days after a 34-24 win over Iowa:

“When I woke up yesterday, it was unbelievable how sore I was. That was the most sore I’ve been probably this season. Iowa had a good defensive line. They had big, strong, tough guys. We wanted to run the ball, and we did that. The consequences are, you wake up on Sunday morning feeling like you got in a bad car wreck. My hands are beat up. My shoulders and neck are sore from all the impact. My knees were just really sore. It was hard for me to get up and stand after I was sitting down. I couldn’t lift my arms above my head because my shoulders were so sore. I was sore all day yesterday.”

Oct. 27 — One night after a 63-14 win over Penn State:

“I woke up about 9:30 this morning, and actually I wasn’t as sore as I was after the Iowa game. I think my body is getting used to the pounding. I was all right. Nothing was hurting me. The starters only played two and a half quarters. That was easier on my body, which is good.”

Nov. 4 — Two days after a 56-0 win at Purdue:

“I played through one series in the second half, and that was it. Nothing serious happened. No dings. I’m not as sore as I am after grudge matches. Now we’re off this weekend. It’s definitely nice. Having two bye weeks really breaks up the season. This is probably the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

Nov. 18 — Two days after a 60-35 win at Illinois

“On Wednesday before the game, I messed my knee up a little bit in practice. I was doing one-on-one pass rush versus Jamal Marcus, and my cleat got stuck in the ground. I made contact with him and twisted my right knee real awkward. At first, I felt something click in there a little bit. I was a little bit nervous. I went in right away and got checked by the doctor. He told me my ligaments were fine and that the worst-case scenario would be a meniscus tear. I’m not having surgery. There’s no point in getting an MRI if I’m not having surgery.

“I went ahead and played. We got up 28-0 in the first half, and Coach (Urban) Meyer made a decision to pull me out so I could rest a little bit. I took my knee brace off on the sideline and iced my knee. Then the game started getting closer. In the third quarter, I went back into the game. That was a little weird. The knee loosened up pretty good. It was all right. I played at about 75 percent. Whenever we were running the ball, I didn’t have as much power as I normally would. That was disappointing. Being in there with the guys got me through it. My adrenaline kind of got me through, too. After the game, on the plane, sitting around, my knee tightened up. Yesterday morning when I woke up, it was tight. I wasn’t limping too badly.”

Nov. 25 — Two days after a 42-14 win over Indiana:

“When I woke up Sunday morning, I felt really good, a lot better than I thought I would. I felt good playing during the game. My knee bothered me sometimes. Later on at night, after the game, it tightened up. But it wasn’t bad when I woke up.

“I think that was the coldest game I ever played in. It was frigid. The temperature adds a little bit of sting when it’s that cold. Your hands and fingers are kind of freezing cold, almost to the point of being numb. Your fingertips hurt. My hands are beat up. Over the years, I’ve become accustomed to it. A lot of my knuckles are messed up, and my fingers are big and bulging. They’re kind of ruined. They’re battle scars. It’s just uncomfortable. You can’t worry about it.

“Now we play Michigan. It’s a big week obviously, and you can’t let the little stuff get in your way. Any little nagging injury you put on the back burner because you’ve got to win this one for your team.”

Dec. 4 — Four days after a 42-41 win at Michigan

“Waking up Sunday morning was a struggle. I was sore all over. Shoulders. Knees. Arms. My neck was especially sore from taking all those hits.

Michigan is always the most-physical game of the year, and this game was no different. That was the hardest hitting game I ever played in. After the game, my head was ringing. It was like a really intense headache. I’m not going to say I had a concussion. I got a headache. I took a lot of impact that game. I’m sure I’ve got some good calluses on my head. My brain can handle it.

“My knee has gotten a lot better. It’s just uncomfortable. There’s not any severe pain. It’s just something I got to deal with. It’s a little frustrating, but I can still play at a high level with it. My left wrist is the biggest thing that’s hurting me. It’s really uncomfortable. I put a lot of tape on it and wore a brace. I’ve never had to play another game right after the Michigan game. That’s a little weird. It’s a quick turnaround after a physical game like that, but I’m taking care of myself. I’ll be ready to go.”

Dec. 10 — Three days after losing 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game

“It was definitely another physical game. Michigan State’s defensive linemen and linebackers — guys I was going against — were big and tough guys. There was a lot of banging going on. I got a few little gashes. My fingers were bleeding pretty badly. The fingernail on my right ring finger fell off. Actually it got peeled back during the second quarter. It was bleeding inside of my glove. In the heat of the game, you don’t realize little stuff like that until you get back to the bench. The blood was coming through my glove. It was gushing blood. I cut the tip of my glove off, and the trainers cleaned it up. They put a bandage and wrap on it. It’s just one of the nicks of playing. It was not a bother.

“My knee felt good during the game. It didn’t start hurting until after the game when the adrenaline wore off and I was back on the team bus. Then it tightened up. I got an MRI on it yesterday. They read it and said there’s nothing torn to the point where I have to get it immediately fixed. No surgery currently at this juncture. It won’t hinder me for the Orange Bowl.

“I feel like we accomplished a lot. We hit some benchmarks. I wish we could have finished when it mattered. But I’m proud of how everybody competed. We had a great run together. We’ll have a lot to look back on. I really feel like I’ve used every ounce of my energy this season. It wore on me, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll be ready for the bowl game.”

tjones@dispatch.com

@Todd_Jones

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