Ohio State football players have been working to improve themselves in all areas this spring, and one of their most popular training methods may come as a surprise: Daily sessions of Whack-a-Mole.
OK, they’re not actually clubbing toy moles with a mallet, but they’ve been competing with each other on a cutting-edge version of that decades-old arcade game.
The Buckeyes have invested in a Dynavision machine, which is parked in a wing of their weight-training facility. It’s a board covered with lights that illuminate one at a time, and players test their reflexes, peripheral vision and hand-eye coordination by turning off each light with a quick tap and then scouring the board for the next one and giving it a slap.
Players are given 60 seconds to see how many they can knock out, and cornerback Doran Grant currently has a team-best score of 108, one more than receiver Chris Fields.
According to OSU, which installed the machine about three weeks ago, NBA great Tim Duncan has the all-time record with 139.
Dynavision technology is relatively new to college teams, but fighter pilots have been known to train on a similar device.
OSU strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti had Grant and Fields demonstrate it for the media last week, and, with a pack of reporters looking on, Grant had a score of 101 and Fields 100.
“When I first saw it, I thought it was a joke,” Fields said. “But as I improve my reaction time, I feel it’s beneficial out on the field.
“It’s pretty fun. I actually was thinking about getting it for my house, but it’s probably a little too expensive.”
A Dynavision machine costs in excess of $10,000. But Marotti believes it’s worth the investment if it can make a difference in one or two plays a year, perhaps turning an incompletion off a receiver’s hands into a catch or a pass deflection into an interception.
Plus, it’s a training exercise that doesn’t require the usual prodding of coaches.
“It’s good because it’s competitive,” Marotti said. “It’s kind of like a video game, and they’re into it. They want to see who can get the highest score, and they’re fighting in the backroom to try to get the highest score.
“Obviously, the object is to decrease reaction time from the time they see a light sensor to the time they hit it. The theory is that when you see a ball or whatever, you can speed up that awareness around them. … It’s training the eye muscles just as if you were training leg muscles or arm muscles.”
Grant’s slow reaction times held him back last season. He played sparingly as the third cornerback but will go into fall practice as the starter.
“I could see it on film,” cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said. “You freeze the film, and this guy, this guy and this guy see it and act. I tell Doran, ‘You see it and (pausing) act.’ We’ve got to fix that, and that’s what we’re doing. He’s a 4.3 guy (in the 40-yard dash). He’s a legitimate 4.3 guy, so let’s fix that, and we are.”
Grant is already seeing a difference from his work on the Dynavision board.
“It’s showing up on my breaks, me seeing plays better, my overall vision on the field,” Grant said. “I can make more plays and do certain things that I can see.”
He’s also enjoying his position atop the Dynavision leaderboard.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, “especially with a lot of trash talkers on the team.”
New ‘do: Quarterback Braxton Miller is sporting a distinctive new hairstyle, having gone to a bleached-blond Mohawk streak like former LSU star Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu.
He’s gotten some grief from the Buckeyes. Asked what coach Urban Meyer had to say about it, receiver Evan Spencer said, “He looked him, and he was like, ‘Why?’ “
Spring game: OSU has sold more than 26,000 tickets for the spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday in Paul Brown Stadium. Tickets cost $12 for general reserved seats and $5 for ages 2-6 (children under 2 are free). They can be purchased through Ticketmaster or on game day between gates B and C. OSU students with a BuckID will be admitted free at Gate E.
Parking costs $10.
The Big Ten Network will air the game on tape delay at 7 p.m. Saturday. WBNS-FM (97.1) in Columbus and WDJO-AM (1480) in Cincinnati will carry it live, but it won’t be broadcast on local radio.
OSU SPRING GAME
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Paul Brown Stadium
Tickets: Available through Ticketmaster or at stadium on game day. General reserved seats cost $12, ages 2-6 $5 and children under 2 are free. Parking is $10.
TV/Radio: Big Ten Network 7 p.m. (tape delay)/WBNS-FM (97.1), WDJO-AM (1480), no local radio