Ohio State football fans had plenty to cheer about Wednesday as head coach Jim Tressel restocked his roster with 25 new players including five-star recruits Dorian Bell, Melvin Fellows and John Simon.
Every reputable recruiting service seems to agree the class put together by Tressel is one of the best in the nation – Scout.com even rated it No. 1 – and several of the freshly-minted players are expected to see immediate playing time for the Buckeyes in 2009.
The consensus wasn’t quite as rosy two dozen recruiting classes ago as head coach Earle Bruce signed a defense-heavy class of 22 high school prospects. No one was blogging about recruiting in 1985 mostly because the Internet was in its infancy. Additionally, there weren’t nearly as many recruiting experts back then and the ones who were in the business decided the Buckeyes’ efforts rated only a C+.
“It’s not a bad year but it’s not a great one either,” national recruiting expert Tom Lemming said at the time. “I’m putting them either fourth or fifth in the Big Ten.
OSU’s class of ’85 was light on players at the skilled positions but was overloaded with seven linebackers. That was a little mystifying to some observers since the Buckeyes already had such LBs as Eric Kumerow, Byron Lee, Pepper Johnson and Chris Spielman on the roster.
That stockpile of talent seemed to chase away Brent White, a 6-5, 225-pound linebacker from Dayton Stebbins High School who was rated the best athlete in Ohio. White signed with Michigan, where he was moved to defensive tackle and had a rather nondescript career despite earning four letters.
Every expert’s selection for the biggest “get” in Ohio State’s 1985 class? That would have been defensive lineman Bill Smith, a 6-6, 260-pound defensive line prospect from Middletown, Ohio. Smith got particular praise from then OSU recruiting coordinator Bob McNea as well as Lemming, who called Smith “the kind of nasty-type defensive lineman they need at Ohio State now.”
(Even then, when the so-called experts concentrated on only a handful of prospects, recruiting was filled with hits and misses.)
Another sharp contrast from 1985 to 2009 was the way OSU employed its recruiting strategy. While Tressel signed 11 out-of-state prospects, Bruce and his staff stayed mostly at home. Seventeen Ohio players were signed with two from Pennsylvania, one from New York and one from Canada.
Thirteen members of the class eventually became starters for the Buckeyes, four of them were drafted by NFL teams and two had pro careers of six seasons or more.
Here is a recap of Ohio State’s 22-member recruiting class in 1985, and if you remember some of these names, consider yourself a true Buckeye fan.
Tom Bolyard, QB, Orrville, Ohio – You would have expected big things from a guy from Bob Knight’s hometown as well as the Smucker’s jelly and jam headquarters. But the 6-4, 190-pounder, who was supposed to come in and contend for the starting quarterback job, never got his college career going. After earning first-team All-Ohio honors as a senior, Bolyard failed to supplant Jim Karsatos at quarterback and switched to punter. He had averaged 42.1 yards per kick in high school, but a college career wasn’t to be for Bolyard. He never earned a letter at Ohio State.
David Brown, DB, Utica (N.Y.) Notre Dame – Brown was a classic overachiever whose speed more than made up for a smallish (6-0, 180) frame. He quickly worked his way up the depth chart and wound up a starting safety as a redshirt freshman in ’86. Brown finished his career as a four-year starter – three at safety and one at cornerback during his senior season in ’89. He finished his OSU career with 212 tackles and 12 interceptions. Brown returned one of his picks 100 yards for a touchdown against Purdue in 1986. It established a new school record which has since been equaled by Marlon Kerner (at Purdue in 1989) and Will Allen (vs. San Diego State in 2003).
Karl Coles, DL, Gahanna (Ohio) Lincoln – Coles was switched to the offensive line early in his OSU career and became a two-year starter at left guard. On signing day, Coles was listed at 6-4 and 233 pounds. During his final season with the Buckeyes, he had filled out to a 6-5, 295-pound frame.
Steve France, DT, Lancaster (Pa.) Catholic – The 6-5, 265-pounder couldn’t seem to find a home position with the Buckeyes. He was switched from defense to offense early in his career, and then was tried at center and tackle before finally settling in as a backup guard. France won one letter at OSU – his senior year of 1989.
Dennis Gossett, LB, Baden (Pa.) Ambridge – A two-time all-state performance, Gossett was a three-year starter at linebacker and a two-year starter at tight end. The 6-2, 225-pounder didn’t have nearly the same success as a Buckeye. He never lettered at OSU.
Dan Hirneise, OL, Marion (Ohio) Pleasant – The 6-3, 253-pounder was everything you could want in a recruit – a four-year starter at defensive tackle, a school record-holder in the shot put, and an honor student who was looking to pursue a career in engineering. Unfortunately, after a redshirt year in ’84, Hirneise suffered a severe knee injury in August 1985 that cost him all of that season and the next. When he rejoined the team in 1987, a sprained ankle sidelined him again. He finally accepted a medical waiver and never lettered for the Buckeyes.
Dedrick “D.D.” Howard, LB, Middletown, Ohio – Howard was considered an excellent prospect after earning Ohio defensive lineman of the year honors from United Press International as a high school senior. He was strong, could run and had good size (6-3, 210). Unfortunately, he locked in behind several other linebackers and eventually bounced back and forth between outside linebacker and defensive tackle. He never lettered for the Buckeyes.
Derek Isaman, LB, Fremont (Ohio) Ross – The 6-3, 210-pound Isaman became a prototypical linebacker for the Buckeyes. He was a sure tackler and tough as nails as evidenced by playing several games in one season with a broken hand. Isaman was a two-year starter when he left the program after the 1987 season to pursue a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team. He then returned to finish his college career in 1989 and led the Buckeyes in tackles that year.
Charles Keenan, DL, Steubenville, Ohio – The 6-2, 215-pounder was Ohio’s Class AA lineman of the year as a senior, leading the Big Red to the state championship, and also served as class valedictorian with a perfect 4.00 grade-point average. He was also the state championship wrestler as a junior. Keenan played only sparingly in the early part of his OSU career, but earned his first letter in 1987 as a member of several special teams units. He made nine tackles in the 1988 spring game and was ready to contend for playing time at linebacker until a shoulder injury ended his career.
Mike Kuri, OL, Martins Ferry, Ohio – The 6-5, 275-pounder became a career backup, spending time at all three offensive line positions. Kuri did make two starts at a tackle spot in 1988 and wound up his OSU career with two letters.
Tom Moore, C, Orrville, Ohio – Moore was the last player in the class of 1985 to earn a scholarship offer. He was a specialist in high school, handling the long-snapping duties on punts, extra points and field goals, and performed the same tasks at Ohio State. The 6-3, 235-pounder served as the Buckeyes’ long snapper for four seasons from 1985 through 1988.
Tim Moxley, OL, Barnesville, Ohio – Moxley was one of the largest offensive line prospects recruited by the Buckeyes in the mid-1980s and worked his way into the starting lineup by his third year in the system. At 6-7 and 310 pounds, Moxley was a road-grader for the OSU running back and often manned the starting position on the strong side of the field. Washington selected him with its ninth-round pick in the 1990 NFL draft.
Jim Palmer, LB, Loudonville, Ohio – Injuries set Palmer back during his first three seasons as a Buckeye. But he blossomed in 1988 when he was moved to tight end and the 6-5, 250-pounder wound up as an excellent player. When starter Jeff Ellis was felled by a knee injury early in the ’89 season, Palmer filled in and finished second on the team in receiving with 28 catches for 308 yards and three touchdowns.
Everett Ross, RB, Columbus Eastmoor – With players such as Keith Byars ahead of him at tailback, Ross quickly changed to a receiver position when he got to Ohio State. The 5-11, 188-pound speedster had limited success during the early part of his career, but had a breakout year as a junior in 1987 when he caught 29 passes for 585 yards and five TDs. His 20.2-yard average per catch ranked second in the Big Ten that year. Ross later earned a measure of notoriety when he was the final player chosen in the 1989 NFL draft – No. 335 in round 12 by Minnesota. That earned him the title of “Mr. Irrelevant,” which since 1976 has gone to each player hearing his name called last in the draft. Ross was cut in preseason camp by the Vikings, but then joined the U.S. Army and served in the military through 1995.
Bill Smith, DL, Middletown, Ohio – Unfortunately for Smith, academic difficulties ended what could have been a promising career. The 6-6, 250-pounder could not meet minimum grade requirements for freshman enrollment and never attained his college eligibility.
Edward Soltis, LB, Austintown (Ohio) Fitch – The 6-3, 215-pounder was a versatile player in high school, earning honorable mention All-Ohio honors as a linebacker and leading his conference in punting. Unfortunately, Soltis was not able to make it as a Buckeye. He never lettered at OSU.
Joe Staysniak, DL, Grafton (Ohio) Midview – Staysniak, who was a first-team All-Ohio performer as well as his high school’s kicker, moved to offense when he got to Ohio State and became a three-year starter at tackle. The 6-5, 287-pounder was strong and smart – three-time Academic All-Big Ten and Academic All-America honors in 1989. Staysniak was a seventh-round draft pick by the Chargers in the 1990 draft and he played 63 NFL games (including 33 starts) over six seasons with Buffalo, Kansas City, Indianapolis and Arizona from 1991-96.
John Sullivan, LB, Mentor (Ohio) Lake Catholic – The 6-1, 215-pound Sullivan brought a lunch-bucket mentality to the linebacker position and fought off a myriad of injuries to break into the starting lineup as a senior in 1988. That year at outside linebacker, he led the Buckeyes in tackles with 88.
Mike Sullivan, LB, Mentor (Ohio) Lake Catholic – Mike was John’s identical twin brother and was a two-year starter at nose guard. He was 215 pounds on signing day and lived in the weight room to add 25 pounds of muscle, finishing as the team’s second-leading tackler behind Chris Spielman in 1987. Sullivan finished his OSU career with 208 tackles, including 21 for loss and 6½ sacks.
Pat Thomas, DL, Centerville, Ohio – The 6-1, 230-pounder played sparingly during his first three seasons with the Buckeyes. But work in the weight room that packed on 30 pounds to his frame and elevated his bench press to 400 pounds got him into the starting lineup at middle guard after Mike Sullivan’s graduation. Thomas totaled 59 tackles in 1989, including four for loss and two sacks.
Vince Workman, RB, Dublin, Ohio – Workman was the eventual crown jewel of the 1985 recruiting class, and he rushed for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore in 1986. Unfortunately, his OSU career was derailed by an ill-advised position change to flanker at the end of the 1987 season and his dealings with an agent that prematurely ended his days as a Buckeye in 1988. Workman was drafted in the fifth round in 1989 by the Packers and spent four seasons in Green Bay as a kick returner and running back. He wound up his NFL career with Indianapolis in 1996. For his eight-year pro career, Workman totaled 1,537 yards and 13 TDs rushing and as additional 1,294 yards and seven TDs receiving.
Srecko Zizakovic, LB, Weston (Toronto, Ontario) Collegiate – Ohio State jumped at the chance to sign Zizakovic after losing out on a highly rated Canadian-born player the year before. Zizakovic eventually filled out to a 6-5, 260-pound frame and became a two-year starter – at outside linebacker in 1988 and at defensive end in 1989.
We have a pair of Buckeye birthdays today. Former OSU quarterback/punter Tom Tupa celebrates his 43rd while former receiver Doug Donley hits the big 5-0.
Thomas Joseph Tupa Jr. was born Feb. 6, 1966, in Cleveland, and quarterbacked his Brecksville High School team to the Ohio state championship in 1983. He concentrated on punting when he got to Ohio State and wound up the school’s career leader in punting average at 44.7 yards per kick. (Andy Groom later broke the record with his career mark of 45.0.) Tupa also has the best two single-season punting averages in OSU history – 47.1 as a freshman in 1984 and 47.0 as a senior in 1987. Making the latter mark even more remarkable is that Tupa doubled as the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback in ’87, completing 134 of 242 passes (55.4 percent) for 1,786 yards and 12 TDs. He was a third-round pick by the Phoenix Cardinals in the 1988 NFL draft and spent 15 seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals, Patriots, Jets, Browns, Buccaneers and Redskins. His career punting average of 43.4 yards ranks 28th all-time in NFL history. Tupa also threw for 3,430 yards and 12 TDs as a pro quarterback.
Douglas Max Donley was born Feb. 6, 1959, in Cambridge, Ohio, and earned first-team All-Ohio honors as a running back during his senior prep season at Cambridge High School. In addition to winning three letters in football for the Bobcats, Donley also won three letters in basketball and four in track. When he got to OSU, Donley quickly was moved to a receiver position and used his speed to total 106 receptions for 2,252 yards and 16 TDs for his career. Nicknamed “White Lightning,” Donley was the second-round selection of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFL draft. He played four seasons in Dallas, totaling 55 catches for 898 yards and four TDs. Donley retired from football following the 1984 season and went into private business in the Dallas area.
Also celebrating birthdays this 6th day of February: actress Zsa Zsa Gábor is 92; British actor Patrick Macnee (the original John Steed in “The Avengers”) is 87; actor Rip Torn (Artie in “The Larry Sanders Show” and Zed in “Men In Black”) is 78; actor Mike Farrell (B.J. Honeycutt in “M*A*S*H”) is 70; author and television newsman Tom Brokaw is 69; Grammy-winning singer Natalie Cole is 59; actress Kathy Nijimy (the voice of Peggy Hill on “King of the Hill”) is 52; actor/director Robert Townsend is 52; Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose (born William Bruce Rose) is 47; author and TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau is 46; the Rick Roll man himself, British singer Rick Astley is 43; former world champion gymnast Kim Zmeskal is 33; New England Patriots defensive end Ty Warren is 28; and former Minnesota and current Toronto Raptors power forward Kris Humphries is 24.
Several other luminaries from the past shared Feb. 6 birthdays including U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr, baseball legend Babe Ruth, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, French film director François Truffaut, reggae immortal Bob Marley and actor Thurl Ravenscroft. Don’t know who Ravenscroft was? He was the booming voice of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes mascot Tony the Tiger and also sang “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the holiday cartoon classic “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.”
** At a news conference last weekend honoring the newest inductees of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the sister of late Dallas Cowboys receiver Bob Hayes spoke on his behalf. The woman read a thank-you note supposedly penned by Hayes in 1999, three years before he died at the age of 59 due to kidney failure. Unfortunately, it appears the woman is a fraud and the letter is a fake. Hayes’ siblings and ex-wife deny that Lucille Hester is actually Hayes’s sister, and the signature on the thank-you letter does not resemble known signatures on Hayes memorabilia. Even worse, former Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach’s name is misspelled “Stauback” in the letter, and one would think Bullet Bob would have known how to spell the name of the man who threw so many passes to him in Dallas. But the killer is the report that the letter in Hester’s possession was typed in the Calibri font, which didn’t exist until five years after Hayes’ death.
** In doing my research for the 1985 Ohio State recruiting class, I came across a nugget that reported former Buckeye basketball players Clark Kellogg and Herb Williams were drawing NBA salaries of $406,000 and $200,000, respectively, from the Indiana Pacers during the 1984-85 season. Obviously, Special K and Herbie were born too soon. Nowadays, as a third-year player, Kellogg would have commanded a salary of at least $826,269 while Williams, who was in his fourth season in the league, would have been due at least $854,957. The minimum NBA salaries this season range from $442,114 for first-year players to more than $1.62 million for veterans with 10 years or more in the league.
** Congratulations to Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, who notched her 1,000th career victory last night. To put that into some sort of context, Ohio State has 795 wins in the entire 43-year history of its women’s basketball program.
** Our old friend Larry Coker is still looking for work after being fired at Miami (Fla.) in 2006. You might think there would be someone out there looking for a guy who has a national championship on his résumé, but evidently not. Coker recently expressed his interest in taking over the brand-new program at Texas-San Antonio. USTA, which will make its debut in 2011, told Coker they’d get back to him.
** A brief memo to the NFL: I watch the Super Bowl each year for the football not the officiating. Eighteen penalties for a total of 162 yards? Next year, tell your zebra crew that unless it is something resembling a total decapitation, keep your hands off your yellow hankies.
** In a recent ESPN poll, fans were asked if they thought a variety of sports were “fixed.” Among the more than 42,000 respondents, 11 percent said yes to college basketball, 14 percent said yes to college football and the NFL and 48 percent said yes to boxing. At the top of the list? Professional wrestling, a “sport” in which 75 percent of those responding said they thought was fixed. My question: Do the other 25 percent believe pro wrestling is the real thing?