50 straight starts at Ohio State? Iron Buckeyes Billy Price, Luke Fickell share their secrets

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COLUMBUS, Ohio ― Billy Price isn’t done yet, but at least a part of him is ready to reflect on his career.

The other part of Ohio State’s savvy senior center apparently has an eye on his future already, and he’s willing to offer an endorsement for how he’s been able to string together a remarkable 50 consecutive starts.

“Everybody has been asking me that, and I just keep telling them, ‘Drinking Mountain Dew out of the fountain of youth,’” Price said with a smile. “I’m looking for a sponsorship.”

Price also has more jokes in reserve about his age, suggesting that’s the reason he’s walking so slowly through the Woody Hayes Athletic Center after yet another grueling practice.

But it doesn’t take long for the captain to switch gears into a more reflective mood, both because he’s nearing the end of his decorated career with Ohio State and is poised to set a record that would have seemed unthinkable when he showed up and nearly washed out as a defensive lineman.

On Saturday against Michigan State, he’ll line up with the first-team offense, snap the ball and go down in the school record books as the only player to ever start 51 consecutive games in the scarlet and gray.

Down the road in Cincinnati, former Ohio State standout defensive lineman Luke Fickell will be watching and waiting to send him a message of congratulations for breaking a record that has stood since he ran out of eligibility in 1996. Only those two Buckeyes know what it takes it stay in the lineup for an uninterrupted stretch like this, and the secret is a whole lot more than soda.

“I’m excited and happy for him, and I’m happy that means guys are sticking around, too,” Fickell said. “Seeing guys finish out and be there for four and five years I think is a great thing. I think it shows commitment, and I think it’s great for the program.

“I’m sure Billy is not one of those ones who is going to be focusing on himself either going into a big, big game and some adverse situations. I think he would probably handle it the same way he’s handled every game.”

Want to know how Fickell and Price pulled off their streaks? That’s step one.

Be really freaking good

The journey to No. 51 has to start with a single game.

And in some ways, that might be the hardest one at a place as competitive and loaded with elite recruits as Ohio State. Particularly when a career begins on the wrong side of the ball like it did for Price.

“No doubt,” Fickell said. “I mean, here’s a guy who didn’t just walk in the door and things were real easy for him. He started off on the defensive side of the ball and then moved over to the offensive side of the ball, obviously very talented but has worked his way up and wasn’t handed anything. He’s a humble kid, too, like a lot of linemen in some ways.

“But I just know him and being around there to see how much he’s worked to get where he’s at, he had to go through some tougher times.”

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Luke Fickell has held the consecutive starts record since 1996. (Ohio State Athletics/courtesy)

They didn’t get all that much easier even after he made his debut in 2014 against Navy at right guard. There certainly were some bumps along the road, including a switch to the left side after three games and even a few moments as a sophomore where it looked like his spot might be in jeopardy.

Both Price and Fickell dealt with those reminders that no matter how hard it might have been to claim a job in the first place, keeping it was just as tough with somebody constantly gunning to take it.

“You could put an asterisk on this record because my sophomore year there were a couple times I almost got jumped or replaced,” Price said. “It’s a hell of a process, and the more you think about all the sleepless nights or the extra film work to make sure you maintain that starting role, the more you value it.

“Because there’s a lot of pride in the offensive line here. I try not to make it out to be more than it is, but it’s kind of incredible.”

Stay healthy, stay tough

Sundays and Mondays are reserved for treatment.

And for an offensive lineman, there are always going to be bumps and bruises that need attention. So, Price spends both of his off days going through three, four or five rounds of therapy if needed so he can do it all again on Saturday.

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Billy Price is looking for a win against Michigan State this weekend ‘first and foremost.’ (Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10)

“I think the big thing is making sure that you’re taking care of your body and then creating habits,” Price said. “I started doing that my sophomore year, learning how to play the game, making sure to get in the cold tub, hot tub, take care of any nagging, lingering aches and making sure they get attended to.

“I meet with the athletic trainer every single Sunday to make sure I’m good from head to toe. You have to be honest about your body because that is the machine that has to work. Every ache and pain has attention to make sure that you’re good.”

The training staff didn’t have nearly have as much technology on hand back in Fickell’s days, obviously. And while both admit that nobody is ever going to feel completely great at the end of a season, grinding week in and week out in the trenches, Fickell may have taken that tolerance for pain to an extreme level when it was his turn to set the record.

After three of his four seasons, Fickell had to go undergo surgery to address injuries that he simply wouldn’t allow to keep him off the field.

“Whether it was bone spurs in the ankle, whether it was the pec surgery, whether it was a knee scope ― those are things that you have to fight,” Fickell said. “You have to be able to take care of yourself and fight through.

“It’s also playing through some days when you don’t feel good, when you have some issues. There are always going to be those kinds of things to deal with, and that’s part of the mental side of it as well.”

Get lucky

Those handful of injuries left at least a couple of weeks where Fickell thought the streak had a chance to end well before it reached No. 50.

He was both tough and lucky enough that it didn’t, even with those trips under the knife waiting for him in the offseason.

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Luke Fickell played at Ohio State from 1992-96 and is now the head coach at Cincinnati. (Ohio State Athletics/courtesy)

Price knocks on wood when he looks back and thinks about his close calls, coming up with only a play where he got rolled up on in training camp before the season and what he called a “little ankle injury” against Rutgers in 2015. But has he ever felt he wasn’t going to make it to a kickoff?

“I’m going to be very truthful and honest ― not once,” Price said. “The injury bug has not hit me, knock on wood. There were a couple moments in camp, but outside of that, I’ve been pretty healthy.”

By and large, that has been the case for all of Ohio State’s linemen since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012.

But the Buckeyes got a splash of reality this season with right guard Branden Bowen breaking his leg, and they were down two other starters for a moment last week at Iowa when both Jamarco Jones and Demetrius Knox had to be removed briefly for medical attention.

So nobody is taking for granted the steady influence Price has provided ― and for how long he’s done it.

Stick around

Fickell has his own self-deprecating jokes about his streak ready as well.

How did he get to No. 50?

“Some will look at it and say, ‘Hell, if you were better, you would have left,’” Fickell said with a laugh. “You wouldn’t have that record. If you were that good, why didn’t you leave for the NFL?

“But for me, I think the longevity and the things that you’ve done, I pride myself on being a guy who fights through things, has toughness and got better.”

Price ticks all of those boxes as well, and if he had wanted to jump to the next level after earning All-America honors last year, nobody would have blamed him.

Instead, he returned and embraced a new challenge, sliding over to center and instantly becoming one of the nation’s best blockers at that position. It will help his professional stock, to be certain, and maybe being a higher draft pick will get the attention of some Mountain Dew marketers.

But it also put him in position to go down as Ohio State’s all-time Iron Man, etching his name into record books that don’t typically have a lot of entries reserved for offensive linemen. And while the primary objective at the Horseshoe this week is just to beat Michigan State and remain in position to win the Big Ten, the laughter from Price eventually gave way to a more serious side as he realized the opportunity ahead of him.

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Billy Price switched to center for his final season at Ohio State. (Jeremy Birmingham/Land of 10)

“As a young person, sometimes we don’t get the full grasp of it,” Price said. “But, I mean, there has been a plethora of incredible players that have come through Ohio State and not been able to put their name in the record books in certain categories. Having the all-time starts record, God willing and staying healthy to get out there on Saturday, that’s huge. That’s absolutely huge.

“That’s something I’ll be able to take my young one someday and say, ‘Hey, I did this.’ Or to represent my family or my small town of Austintown in Northeast Ohio and come to one of the biggest stages in college football, it’s huge. I just got goosebumps thinking about that. Whew ― that will be cool. But first and foremost, I just want to go win the game.”

That, of course, won’t be settled until the last seconds tick off the clock.

But when that first whistle blows, Price should be easy to find. The positions may have changed over the previous 50 games, but his spot in Ohio State’s starting lineup will be as secure as his new record.

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