The Buckeyes coach said his team made strides during spring practice.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BOARDMAN -- The eyes of Columbus are upon Jim Tressel.
As first-year coach of the Ohio State football team, Tressel has embarked on a glorious road that is guaranteed to be pressure-packed.
Since he was named coach of the Buckeyes in January, Tressel has been given positive reviews for his command of the program in its early stages.
But there is a catch -- the 2001 season, when Tressel must prove himself against the Big Ten heavyweights, including road games at Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan, preceded by a cross-country trip to non-conference opponent UCLA.
The former coach at Youngstown State, Tressel knows the real tests lie ahead.
"We haven't played any games. There's been no opposition," Tressel said Thursday from Mr. Anthony's Banquet Center, where he was honored by the Penguin Club. "We haven't lined up on the field with both [teams] there in the flesh.
"The sailing gets tougher when you have opposition."
Challenges: Those upcoming challenges -- and how Tressel handles them -- will determine his standing with Ohio State fans.
"They want to love Ohio State football, so they've been tremendously receptive," he said. "Obviously, the wins and losses are going to have an impact on how they're feeling."
Ohio State made strides during spring practice as Tressel, 48, grew closer to his players and fellow coaches. He surveyed the progress of a defense, which he said should benefit from veteran leaders -- specifically at linebacker -- and an offense that continues to take shape.
Incumbent starting quarterback, senior Steve Bellisari, is being challenged by redshirt sophomores Scott McMullen and Craig Krenzel and redshirt freshman Rick McFadden of Struthers.
Duties: "We've been trying to do all the foundational things that you do," Tressel said of his first-year duties.
"First, developing relationships with people, starting with the players; meshing our staff together; and [building] relationships with high school coaches, the community, alumni and the entire state."
As Tressel begins anew in Columbus, those in Youngstown haven't forgotten the 15 years he spent with the Penguins. That's why the Penguin Club saluted him Thursday in front of nearly 900 supporters.
"There are a number of people in the community that wanted to say 'thank you for the memories and what you've done for Youngstown State,' " Penguin Club director Jim Morrison said.
Highlights: The ceremony included a highlight reel of the Tressel years and the four national championships he won during his tenure.
Morrison said the proceeds of each $100 ticket will be donated toward a scholarship fund, which will benefit Mahoning County's inner-city students, created in the Tressel family name.
"I've been around long enough to see the good, the bad and the ugly," Morrison said of the Tressel years. "What Jim brought to our program was the epitome of college success. We've had a great ride."
Tressel said, "I had a chance to work with so many people in so many arenas, not just football."
As fitting as it was for Tressel to represent Youngstown State's past, another individual stood for the Penguins' future.
"We'll try to continue to do what's best for this university and valley," current Youngstown State coach Jon Heacock said, "and use the fundamentals that have been laid down here with Coach."