COLUMBUS: After years and years of getting a cold shoulder from the city of Cincinnati, Ohio State's football team is taking its act on the road to the Queen City.
Call it a spring thaw.
The Buckeyes will wind up their 15 spring practices on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals, while work is being done on their own Ohio Stadium.
Coach Urban Meyer, a 1986 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, can't wait to show his players around — and show them off.
"We're going to take our players to the Reds museum," he said. "We're going to give them a little taste of Cincinnati afterward with Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter's ice cream and some Skyline (chili). So we're going to do it right."
Before that, the Buckeyes will play their annual intrasquad scrimmage in a city that over the years has shown only lukewarm interest in Ohio State and has traditionally not sent many of its top high school players to the Buckeyes.
The trip is a step toward mending those fences.
"There does seem to be some sort of disconnect," said Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Coombs, a longtime high school coach in Cincinnati. "Coach Meyer is working really hard to bridge whatever gap there might be."
Two Ohio State starters— defensive lineman Adolphus Washington and offensive lineman Andrew Norwell — are from Cincinnati. But the city has never embraced the Buckeyes as do Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, Akron or Dayton. Top football players seem to either stay home and play for the Bearcats or head off to Notre Dame, Kentucky or other Southeastern Conference locales.
Norwell is looking forward to playing this road game.
"It makes it exciting playing somewhere else," said Norwell, a senior. "I love playing in the 'Shoe, but playing in Cincinnati hits home to me. Being from Cincinnati, it's going to be great."
Meyer, for one, believes the Buckeyes have established a beachhead in Cincinnati that will help sway prep stars to come north to Columbus.
"I wasn't here in years past, but I have heard a lot of that, 'Well, we haven't done well in Cincinnati,'" the second-year coach of the Buckeyes said. "I think we're doing great. I think we're killing it. Adolphus Washington could potentially be a great player at Ohio State. And recently we've done good down there. There's really good players, really good high school coaches. Coach Coombs has helped, and (assistant) Tim Hinton obviously knows Cincinnati since he coached at UC for a long time. I went there. So I think we're doing great. I love Cincinnati."
Washington, a sophomore outside linebacker/rush lineman who played well in spots a year ago, is looking forward to going home.
"It's going to be a good thing to play in an NFL stadium, first and foremost," he said. "I've got a lot of people coming to the game. Everybody keeps saying that they want to see me play. Now if they make it down there, they'll see me."
Ohio State's coaching staff will help split the squad into two teams on Thursday. After practicing on Friday at the Woody Hayes facility, the Buckeyes will depart by bus on Saturday morning for Cincinnati. Meyer still has some problem areas he's evaluating, such as the front seven on defense and the right tackle spot.
Sophomore Taylor Decker is taking snaps at right tackle, but Meyer expressed concern that he hasn't seized the starting position and made it his.
Meyer did lavish praise on junior linebacker Curtis Grant, an acclaimed recruit who has not been an impact player so far. With All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier's availability limited by injury, Grant is starting at middle linebacker and asserting himself for the first time in his college career.
More than just playing in the Bengals stadium, the Buckeyes will also get to meet the team's coach. Marvin Lewis will speak to the team at some point during the trip.
"I love Marvin Lewis. He's one of the great football coaches, a great friend of mine," Meyer said. "So it's going to be a good trip."