Will Pryor Be Pryor? Doesn’t Sound Like It

I was going to write a column for next month’s football preview issue of Buckeye Sports Bulletin with a request for Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.

The plea? Let Terrelle Pryor be Terrelle Pryor.

Apparently there is no reason for that column to be written. During Big Ten Media Days in Chicago earlier this week, Tressel intimated that he prefers his mobile quarterback remain a little more stationary. According to the head coach, the reason is simple – survival.

“I’m not looking for my quarterback to act like a fullback,” Tressel said. “I’m not looking for my quarterback to get hit 20 times a game. I guess I’m talking about the old saying about discretion being the better part of valor. There’s a reason why the career of an NFL running back doesn’t last very long. The guy with the ball gets hit the hardest. I’m not looking for my quarterback to be the guy on our team that gets hit hardest the most times in a game.”

There is no doubt the coach has a salient point. After all, he doesn’t have 218 career victories and make upwards of $3.5 million because he doesn’t know the finer points of the game.

Still, Pryor seems like he could be one of those once-in-a-lifetime type quarterbacks. He threw for more than 4,300 yards in high school but he also ran for 4,200. He’s 6-6 and 235 pounds, and recently turned in a 40-yard dash time of 4.33 seconds – the fastest on the team. It seems only natural that you would want to allow a player of that caliber to unleash all of his God-given talents on the opposition.

Big, strong-armed quarterbacks with fast wheels also seem to fit the blueprint for national championships. Just think Vince Young (6-5, 233) or Tim Tebow (6-3, 235).

Young wasn’t a run-first quarterback when he led Texas to the title in 2005 and neither was Tebow when he guided Florida to last year’s title. Young threw for 3,036 yards and 26 TDs in ’05 while Tebow piled up 2,746 yards and 30 TDs last season. You have to be able to stand in the pocket for the majority of your plays to compile those kinds of numbers.

Still, the running game was a big gun in both quarterbacks’ arsenals. Young carried 155 times for 1,050 yards and 12 TDs during his team’s title run and Tebow added 673 yards and 12 TDs on 176 carries for the Gators last year.

Moreover, it wasn’t just the yardage. It was the fact that opposing defenses were forced to respect the possibility that Young or Tebow could take off at any time, making their passing attack that much more potent. Anyone knows the threat of a mobile quarterback can freeze linebackers and safeties, giving potential receivers that split-second they need to get open.

Looking at Pryor and expecting him to be another Young or Tebow, however, is the old apples-to-oranges comparison, according to Tressel.

“First of all, Terrelle is a lot different from Tebow,” the OSU coach said. “Terrelle is not a power runner. Secondly, you have to take what the defense gives you. You can’t design your offense around your quarterback running the ball all the time. You can sit there and say, ‘Well, Terrelle is that good and that fast, so he ought to always be able to get the yards we need.’ There’s a little more it than that. You have to have some balance. Hey, we all like ice cream cones but you can’t eat 15 of them. You have to have some balance.”

So what exactly how will Pryor’s role be defined?

“Our goal has always been to throw for 250 yards and run for 200 in every game, and that hasn’t changed,” Tressel said. “Our philosophy is that our receivers have the most touches in a game, then the running backs and then the quarterback. You attack with your receivers, then your running backs and the quarterbacks are the final part of that equation.”

Sound thinking, of course – in a perfect world. For Ohio State to achieve the goal of throwing for 250 yards and rushing for 200 in every game would make it imperative that the offensive line fired on all cylinders. We know that hasn’t been the case for at least the last couple of years, and that was largely with a veteran cast of characters. With new starters slotted at four positions – not to mention a left tackle spot still very much up for grabs – it seems somewhat of a gamble to rely so heavily on that unit.

Guess what else a running quarterback can do? Ease the pressure on an evolving offensive line.

Of course, we have seen this before and the results were pretty darned good – up to a point. Troy Smith had a run-first mentality for much of his career before turning into a pocket passer in 2006. That year, he broke several school records on his way to the Heisman Trophy.

Unfortunately, by the time the national championship game rolled around, Smith had apparently forgotten how to run the football. Had Smith tried to run straight at rather than away from the Florida defense, the complexion of that BCS title game might have been much different. Would the Buckeyes have won that night? That’s difficult to say but I think the game could have been and would have been much more competitive.

If Tressel insists upon Pryor staying in the pocket against USC, he will holster one of his main weapons in what many believe is a must-win game for his program. My only question: Why would he do that?

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State safety Sonny Gordon, who turns 44.

Denman Preston Gordon was born July 30, 1965, in Lynn, Mass., but grew up in Middletown, Ohio, where he was a high school football star for the Middies. He was a starter at the rover position from 1984-86 and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in ’86. That season, he set career-highs with 94 tackles, seven interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Gordon was Cincinnati’s sixth-round selection in the 1987 NFL draft but never played with the Bengals. He signed with Tampa Bay and played seven games with the Buccaneers in ’87, his only season in the NFL. Following his playing career, Gordon entered private business and has been a longtime sales rep and territory manager for Columbus-based Worthington Industries.

Among the others celebrating birthdays this 30th day of July: H&R Block co-rounder Henry Bloch is 87; children’s television producer Sid Krofft is 80; Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig is 75; blues guitarist/singer Buddy Guy is 73; firm director Peter Bogdanovich is 70; former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) is 69; singer/composer Paul Anka is 68; jazz saxophonist David Sanborn is 64; California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is 62; law professor and ex-Clarence Thomas colleague Anita Hill is 53; former Colorado Rockies manager Clint Hurdle is 52; former NBA center and current Phoenix Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright is 52; singer/songwriter Kate Bush is 51; country singer Neal McCoy is 51; two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist Daley Thompson is 51; actor Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus in the “Matrix” trilogy and Dr. Raymond Langston in “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) is 48; actress Lisa Kudrow is 46; actor Simon Baker (Patrick Jane in “The Mentalist”) is 40; two-time Academy Award winning actress Hilary Swank is 35; actress Jaime Pressly (Joy Farrah Darville/Hickey/Turner in “My Name Is Earl) is 32; and British golfer Justin Rose is 29.

Also on this day in history: the city of Baghdad was founded in 762 while Baltimore, Md., followed in 1729; English novelist Emily Brontë is born in 1818; President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Act of 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid, in 1965; Apollo 15 landed on the moon with the first Lunar Rover in 1971; Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa disappeared from a Bloomfield Hills, Mich., restaurant parking lot in 1975; the final old-style Volkswagen Beetle rolled off a Mexico assembly line in 2003; and Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh died in 2007.

AND FINALLY …

** It seems the U.S. Military Academy and the New York Yankees have forged a partnership. Army will play four games in the new facility over the next several years, including 2010 when the Black Knights host Notre Dame. Army will also take on Rutgers (2011), Air Force (2012) and Boston College (2014) in Yankee Stadium.

** Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters at Big Ten Media Day that the Wildcats continue to explore possibilities of playing one of their home games at Wrigley Field. Fitzgerald said, however, that his team would like to make a trip to Wrigley only a once-in-a-great-long-while thing.

** Congratulations to MLB umpire Joe West. When he works the Washington-Milwaukee game tonight, it will mark his 4,000th major league game. Only 14 other umpires have ever reached that milestone.

** I rarely agree with ESPN the Magazine columnist Rick Reilly, but he’s dead on with his assessment of Tiger Woods’ churlish behavior on the golf course. The world’s best golfer can be extremely engaging away from the course and very accessible when things go right. But the pursuit of 100-percent perfection in a game that almost never allows that sort of thing turns Woods into a profane, boorish lout. As I wrote some time ago, I have no doubt that Woods will ultimately break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships. But if he continues to act the way he does in defeat, Woods will never surpass Nicklaus in terms of class. In fact, he’ll never ever come close.

** It’s difficult to criticize a guy on his birthday, but here goes anyway. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig must rule on the Pete Rose situation and he must do it now. Either he is in favor of reinstating Rose or he isn’t. He can no longer have it both ways. Either he’s going to listen to Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan and Mike Schmidt who are in favor of reinstating Rose, or he’s going to listen to Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Duke Snider and Bobby Doerr and keep Rose on the sidelines. Some criticize Selig for being unable to make the tough decisions. My criticism is that he doesn’t make any decision. His legacy is going to be boring interleague play, the ridiculous notion that the winner of the All-Star Game should dictate home-field advantage in the World Series and presiding over his sport’s biggest scandal in nearly a century. I only hope that when it comes time for Selig to be considered for the Hall of Fame, he joins Rose on the outside looking in.

** I’ve said it before, I said it again at Big Ten Media Days and I may as well say it here. If I had the choice (and I clearly do not), I’d take Charissa Thompson over Erin Andrews. Every day of the week.

Carter, Spielman Crowned 1984 Recruiting Class

I thought I’d step into the Recruiting Wayback Machine again and take a look back a quarter-century ago at the Ohio State class of 1984.

Twenty-five years ago, the Buckeyes signed 25 high school players to national letters of intent and several of them turned to be stars. Two became among the top performers at their position in school history – some would even argue the best wide receiver and linebacker to ever suit up for the Scarlet and Gray.

OSU head coach Earle Bruce had just completed his fifth season in Columbus and was in the middle of a seven-year streak of three-loss campaigns, a stretch that had earned the coach the derisive nickname of “Ol’ 9-3 Earle.” However, lost over time is the fact the 1983 team came within an eyelash of contending for a national championship.

The Buckeyes went 9-3 that season, but their three losses came by a total of just 13 points, all to ranked teams and all on the road. As a result, OSU finished ninth in the final AP poll that season and eighth in the UPI rankings. The team that year featured such future NFL stars as offensive tackle William Roberts, tight end John Frank, center Kirk Lowdermilk, linebacker Pepper Johnson and quarterback Mike Tomczak. Just those five players alone went on to combine for 59 NFL seasons and seven Super Bowl championship rings.

Roberts and Frank were among those graduating after the 1983 season, so Bruce and his coaching staff put heavy recruiting emphasis on restocking the roster with offensive linemen and tight ends. At the same time, OSU broke tradition in a couple of different areas. The Buckeyes did well in the Cincinnati area, where Bruce had experienced trouble keeping top players away from Notre Dame, and they uncharacteristically signed a couple of junior college standouts.

Two of the most highly rated players came from Ohio. Recruiting analysts are often a hit-and-miss bunch, but even the most myopic of the gurus could have foretold future greatness for receiver Cris Carter of Middletown and Chris Spielman of Massillon Washington.

That duo was the foundation upon which the Buckeyes’ class of ’84 earned the grade of “B to B-plus” from West Virginia recruiting expert Doug Huff. Illinois was given Big Ten honors followed by OSU and Michigan in a tie for second place. The Illini, who were defending conference champions, were given top marks for signing so many college-ready athletes. Head coach Mike White signed a whopping 12 JUCO transfers, including 11 from California.

In addition to landing Carter and Spielman, Huff gave Ohio State upgrades for landing a bevy of talented offensive line prospects. He listed junior college transfer Ron Paulsen and Chicago-area high school star Mike Durham as major “gets” for the Buckeyes. (If you recall either player, consider yourself a real student of Ohio State recruiting history.)

Bruce and his staff followed their tried and true recruiting philosophy in 1984, concentrating most of their efforts on Ohio-grown talent. As a result, 20 members of the class came from the Buckeye State with OSU signing one player each from Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania as well as junior colleges in Kansas and California.

As with nearly every recruiting season, though, the Buckeyes couldn’t sweep Ohio completely clean. They fought hard for linebacker Frank Stams of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, but it those days it was extremely different to pry any credible SVSM player away from Notre Dame. (After all, St. Vincent-St. Mary also plays as the Fighting Irish). Stams indeed signed with Notre Dame and became an All-America defensive tackle, helping those Irish win the 1988 national championship. He later had a seven-year NFL career with the Rams, Browns and Chiefs.

Other top-rated Ohio players who got away from the Buckeyes in 1984 included Akron Garfield running back Charles Gladman, who signed with Pittsburgh, and Cleveland St. Joseph tight end Mike Kovac, who signed with Michigan. Gladman became one of only nine Pitt running backs to rush for 2,000 or more yards in his career. Kovac, meanwhile, never lettered for the Wolverines.

Huff rated USC’s class as the nation’s best for an all-around effort by head coach Ted Tollner and his staff. The Trojans were able to sign national player of the year Ryan Knight, a running back from Riverside (Calif.) Rubidoux. Knight lettered four years for the Trojans, but never turned out to be anything more than a backup. (His younger brother, Sammy, also played at USC and has been an NFL safety since 1997.) Also signing with the Trojans that season was quarterback Rodney Peete of Shawnee Mission, Kan.

Here is a complete list of Ohio State’s recruiting class of 1984. See if you can remember some of these names.

Tom Anderzack, OLB, Toledo (Ohio) Central Catholic – Anderzack was an athletic prospect who had been named Toledo’s defensive player of the year during his senior season. He was 6-3 and 210 pounds, a sprinter on the track team and president of his junior class. Unfortunately, none of that success carried over to his college career. He redshirted in 1984, played only sparingly during the next two seasons and never lettered for Ohio State.

Sean Bell, DB, Middletown, Ohio – Bell was the younger brother of Todd Bell, who starred for the Buckeyes from 1977-80 and then had a pro career with the Chicago Bears. Sean was the total package at 6-2, 185 pounds and 4.5 speed, but he could never match his older brother’s performance. Sean was a three-year letterman for OSU from 1985-87, but a broken leg suffered during the first week of fall practice in ’86 hindered his progress and he could never crack the starting lineup.

Mike Bloemer, OL, Cincinnati (Ohio) Aiken – An All-Ohio and honorable mention All-America offensive tackle, Bloemer was another excellent all-around prospect from the class of ’84. In addition to football, he played basketball for the Falcons and was an honor student, graduating 11th in a class of 345. Bloemer redshirted in 1984 and fought his way to No. 2 on the depth chart at tackle before an ankle injury slowed his progress. He never lettered for the Buckeyes.

Jim Carroll, TE, Berea, Ohio – The 6-4, 238-pound Carroll was supposed to be in line to succeed Frank at tight end after catching 51 passes during his high school career, including 20 for 350 yards as a senior. He saw action in two games as a true freshman in 1984 and entered the ’85 season in contention for the starting position. But he never earned a letter at OSU.

Cris Carter, WR, Middletown, Ohio – Carter exploded onto the scene as a true freshman in 1984 and continued to get better every year he was a Buckeye. He led the team in receiving as a sophomore and junior, becoming the first OSU receiver ever to record a 1,000-yard season when he caught a school-record 69 passes for 1,127 yards in 1986. Improper dealings with a sports agent cost him his entire senior year, but despite playing only three seasons, Carter remains second all-time at Ohio State in career receptions with 168. He went on to a Hall of Fame-worthy career in the NFL, earning eight Pro Bowl berths in 16 seasons with Minnesota, Philadelphia and Miami. Carter ranks third in league history in receptions (1,101), fourth in touchdown catches (130) and seventh in receiving yards (13,899). In 2009, his son Duron will join Ohio State as a receiver.

Gary Clift, QB, Brunswick, Ohio – Clift was a three-sport star in high school, but excelled as a dual-threat quarterback on the gridiron. He completed 190 passes for 2,286 yards during his final two years for the Blue Devils and added another 12 rushing touchdowns as a senior. A torn tendon in his throwing shoulder that required surgery forced Clift to move to defense in 1985 and then to a receiver position in the spring of ’86. He remained there for the remainder of his OSU career and Clift won his only letter in 1987.

Jeff Compton, PK, Ottawa (Ohio) Ottawa-Glandorf – Compton was a converted soccer player who didn’t play football in high school until his junior year. He was a quick learner, however, and earned a scholarship based on making 12 of 15 field-goal attempts as a senior. Compton was locked in behind veteran kickers Rich Spangler and Matt Frantz during the early part of his career and wound up never lettering for the Buckeyes.

Jim Davidson, OLB, Westerville (Ohio) North – The 6-5, 225-pounder was the son of former OSU captain and All-America tackle Jim Davidson. Jim Jr. earned second-team All-Ohio honors as a high school senior and was also a standout in the classroom, graduating as valedictorian of his class and serving as president of the National Honor Society. He lettered in 1985 as an outside linebacker, but was moved to the offensive line to bolster depth there. Davidson eventually was forced to accept a medical waiver prior to the 1987 season because of chronic neck and shoulder injuries. His brother, Jeff, later became a two-year starter at guard for the Buckeyes in 1988 and ’89 and is currently offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.

Dino Dawson, WR, Detroit (Mich.) Cooley – Dawson was a quick all-star prospect who had 4.46 speed and was a championship hurdler. He caught 48 passes for 925 yards and 12 TDs as a senior, and was projected along with Carter to give the Buckeyes a pair of deep threats for many seasons to come. After lettering in 1984, however, Dawson left OSU and transferred to Kent State, where he led the team in receptions in 1989. Dawson finally earned his degree from Wayne State in 1991 and began a college coaching career that has included stops at Wayne State, Illinois State, Bowling Green, Toledo, Cincinnati, Tuskegee and Illinois. He is currently offensive coordinator at Alcorn State.

Mike Durham, OL, Evanston (Ill.) Loyola Academy – An excellent prospect who was a two-year starter at Loyola Academy, the 6-6, 254-pound Durham earned Chicago area All-Catholic and Catholic All-America honors in 1983. Injuries plagued him throughout his OSU career and he never lettered.

Alex Higdon, TE, Cincinnati (Ohio) Princeton – The 6-5, 234-pound Higdon was an excellent all-around athlete. In addition to football, he played forward on the Vikings’ basketball team, was a pitcher on the baseball team, threw the discus and ran hurdles for the track team and even dabbled in boxing. After a prep All-America career, he became a four-year letterman for the Buckeyes, who used his versatility all over the field. Higdon won his first letter as a backup tight end, his second as a defensive tackle and his third as an outside linebacker before returning to tight end and taking over the starting position as a senior. Higdon tied for second on the team in receptions in 1987, grabbing 26 balls for 252 yards.

Frank Hoak, WR/TE, Richeyville (Pa.) Bethlehem Center – Hoak was another excellent all-around athlete in the class of ’84. The 6-2, 205-pounder caught 100 passes for 1,989 yards and 24 TDs during his high school career, punted for a 38.1-yard average and converted 45 of 50 PAT attempts. Hoak, who is the nephew of former OSU tight end and assistant coach Fred Pagac, also lettered in basketball and baseball and enjoyed playing golf. After redshirting in 1984, Hoak was switched to the fullback position and spent a year there before returning to tight. He won his only letter in 1987.

Jamie Holland, WR, Butler County (Kan.) Community College – Holland was a speedster originally from Wake Forest, N.C., who became a JUCO star. He had been an all-state running back in high school before being converted to a receiver who used his speed to score 11 touchdown on only 31 receptions in 1983. Holland won his only OSU letter in 1986. That year, he led the Buckeyes in kickoff returns, averaging 20.9 yards on 24 runbacks. Holland also caught eight passes for 142 yards and one TD in ’86.

Tim James, OL, Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder – James was following in the footsteps of his father, Dan, who played center for Woody Hayes at Ohio State from 1956-58 and then spent eight years in the NFL, mostly with San Francisco. Tim earned All-Ohio honors as a guard for Elder, and was an athletic prospects who also enjoyed softball, golf and rugby. He redshirted in ’84, but was considered a candidate for one of the starting guard positions the following season. It was not to be, however, and James never won an OSU letter.

Mike Madigan, OL, Wapakoneta, Ohio – Madigan was twice named his league’s lineman of the year and he earned honorable mention all-state honors as well as being named to play in the Ohio North-South All-Star Game. He redshirted in 1984, and then broke his arm during spring practice in ’85. He never lettered at Ohio State.

Michael McCray, OLB, Dayton (Ohio) Dunbar – McCray had an excellent prep career at two different high schools. As a freshman and sophomore, he attended Dayton Roth and started on the team that won the 1982 state championship in basketball. He later transferred to Dunbar, where he was a prep All-American in basketball and track. McCray earned three letters during his OSU career and was a two-year starter at linebacker in 1986 and ’87. But he is probably best remembered for recovering a fumble in the 1987 Michigan game, a turnover that began Ohio State’s comeback from a 13-0 deficit. McCray’s recovery led to a 61-yard touchdown pass from Tupa to Everett Ross and touched off the Buckeyes’ eventual 23-20 win in Bruce’s final game as head coach.

Ron Paulsen, OL, Norwalk (Calif.) Cerritos Community College – After an all-state career as an offensive tackle in Long Beach, Calif., Paulsen played two JUCO seasons before joining the Buckeyes in ’84. He was redshirted that year with an eye toward contending for one of the starting guard positions the following season. But a knee injury that required minor surgery set his progress back, and although Paulsen managed to win a letter in 1985, he left the team before the ’86 season began.

Scott Powell, QB, North Canton (Ohio) Hoover – Powell first made a name for himself as an outside linebacker, but when the Vikings needed a quarterback, he switched positions before his senior year and completed 119 of 220 passes for 1,580 yards and 17 TDs. That was good enough for the Buckeyes to offer him a scholarship, which he accepted. Powell was equally versatile for Ohio State, playing a variety of positions during his career including returning to an outside linebacker position and serving as the holder on PATs and field goals. He earned three letters from 1986-88.

Greg Rogan, DB, Urbana, Ohio – Rogan was generously listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, but he oozed athleticism from every pore. He won All-Ohio honors as a defensive back but just as easily could have won them as a running back after gaining 1,800 yards as a senior. Rogan was a four-year starter at cornerback for the Buckeyes from 1984-87, but his senior season was cut short after only five games. Rogan sustained a broken left ankle early in the fourth quarter of his team’s 31-10 loss to Indiana.

Dwight Smith, DB, Middletown, Ohio – Smith was a two-sport star for the Middies, playing for championship football and basketball teams. He bounced back and forth between cornerback and safety during the early part of his Ohio State career before finally settling in as a backup safety and special teams player. He earned letters in 1987 and 1988.

Chris Spielman, LB, Massillon (Ohio) Washington – Spielman was born to play football and proved that assertion at an early age. After tearing up his parents’ house and the sandlots around Canton, Spielman moved with his family to Massillon and became an outstanding star for the Tigers. He earned prep All-America honors and was even pictured on the front of a Wheaties box while still in high school. Once he reached the college ranks, he never slowed down. Spielman begged Bruce to start him as a freshman and then spent the next four years as one of college football’s best linebackers. By the time his OSU career was over, Spielman had established a still-standing school record with 283 solo tackles, earned back-to-back consensus All-America honors and won the 1987 Lombardi Award. Detroit made him its second-round selection in the 1988 NFL draft, and Spielman played eight seasons with the Lions, averaging 127.5 tackles per year and making four Pro Bowls. He spent two years in Buffalo before a neck injury ended his career. Spielman is currently a college football analyst on Columbus radio as well as for ESPN, and is a tireless fundraiser for breast cancer research.

Tom Tupa, QB/P, Broadview Heights, Ohio – Tupa quarterbacked his high school team to the Ohio state championship in 1983, and then 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. 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.

Jeff Uhlenhake, OL, Newark (Ohio) Catholic – Uhlenhake anchored the offensive and defensive lines for the Green Wave teams that made three consecutive state finals and won the title in 1982. When he got to Ohio State, Uhlenhake started at guard as a sophomore and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors. The following year, he switched to center and was named a first-team All-American at that position as a senior. Uhlenhake was drafted by Miami in the fifth round of the 1989 NFL draft and started for five seasons for the Dolphins. He later spent two years each with New Orleans and Washington, and started for both of those teams. He retired following the 1997 season after starting 112 of the 119 NFL games in which he had played. After his playing days were over, Uhlenhake got into coaching and was an assistant at Cincinnati and with the Cleveland Browns. In 2007, he returned to his alma mater has spent the last two years as coordinator of strength and conditioning on Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State.

William White, DB, Lima (Ohio) Senior – Overshadowed by some of the other names in the class of ’84, White was one of the best cornerbacks Ohio State has ever produced. He was a dangerous tailback and punt returner in high school before concentrating on defense when he became a Buckeye. White was a rare four-year starter at cornerback and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 1987. He finished his career tied for third on the career interceptions list with 16, is one of only six OSU players ever return two picks for touchdowns during his career, and one of only nine Buckeyes ever to record three interceptions in a single game. White was a fourth-round selection by Detroit in the 1988 NFL draft, and he played 11 pro seasons with the Lions, Chiefs and Falcons. When he retired after the 1998 season, White had totaled 20 career interceptions, averaging 15.5 yards per return, and recovered three fumbles, returning two of those for touchdowns.

Greg Zackeroff, OL, Warren (Ohio) Harding – A hard-working, lunch-bucket kind of guy, Zackeroff came to the Buckeyes after winning All-Ohio honors and being named Trumbull County offensive lineman of the year. He toiled away on the scout team during his first season before earning his first of four letters in 1985. The following season, Zackeroff was inserted into the starting lineup at right guard and anchored that position for the next three seasons.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former defensive end Matt Finkes.

Matthew Scott Finkes was born Feb. 12, 1975, in Piqua, Ohio, and starred for his hometown high school, earning Division I all-state and district lineman of the year honors as a senior. Finkes signed with Ohio State in 1993 and made an immediate impact. He broke into the starting lineup in ’94 as a sophomore and teamed with fellow defensive end Mike Vrabel to terrorize Big Ten quarterbacks for the next three years. The duo combined for 125 career tackles for loss – 66 by Vrabel and 59 by Finkes – and those totals remain first and second in OSU history. Finkes also had 25 sacks during his career, and that ranks third in school history behind only Vrabel (36) and Jason Simmons (27½). Finkes was a sixth-round selection by Carolina in the 1997 NFL draft, but never played for the Panthers. He was signed off waivers by the Jets and appeared in eight games for New York during the ’97 season. Finkes later played for Scotland in NFL Europe before returning to his hometown of Piqua where he owns his own construction business.

Also celebrating birthdays this 12th day of February: former baseball player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola is 83; Fifties quiz show scandal figure Charles Van Doren is also 83; U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is 79; NBA Hall of Fame center Bill Russell is 75; veteran character actor Joe Don Baker is 73; children’s author Judy Blume is 71; three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford is 71; The Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek is 70; Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak is 67; actress and two-time Bond girl Maud Adams (“The Man With The Golden Gun” and “Octopussy”) is 64; former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is 59; singer, former Doobie Brothers frontman and (some say) Mark Rea lookalike Michael McDonald is 57; TV actress Joanna Kerns (Maggie Seaver on “Growing Pains”) is 56; former talk show host Arsenio Hall is 54; Oscar-nominated actor Josh Brolin is 41; Wilson Phillips singer Chynna Phillips is also 41; model/celebrity wannabe Anna Benson is 33; and actress Christina Ricci is 29.

Also, Happy 200th Birthday today to Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

Congratulations are also in order today for our friends in East Lansing. On this date in 1855, Michigan State University was established as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan. Happy birthday, Sparty.

AND FINALLY

** College football is evidently serious about cracking down on taunting, so much so the NCAA rules committee is considering disallowing a touchdown if a player is flagged for taunting during a scoring play. Citing an increasing concern over unsportsmanlike conduct, rules committee chairman and Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti said yesterday that the group is considering a major change to the taunting rules. Taunting, baiting or ridiculing an opponent verbally is currently considered a dead-ball foul with penalty yardage assessed on the next kickoff. If the rule is changed, penalty yardage would be marked off from the spot of the foul and the touchdown would be nullified. I don’t like taunting but I also dislike wringing every drop of emotion out of college football. There has to be a better way.

** I still love baseball despite all of its flaws. But I guess I’m numb to the steroids issue because the owners and their puppet commissioner looked the other way when they knew players were taking performance-enhancing drugs. That’s why everyone should just shut up about Alex Rodriguez and how his admittance of taking PEDs will ruin the game. A-Rod is a great player, and just like Barry Bonds, he was great before he took steroids. But no one player is “the game.” It was being played more than a hundred years before A-Rod arrived on the scene and it will be here long after his shadow has faded.

** While we’re on the subject, why not release the other 103 names from 2003 who tested positive for steroids? I have no particular affinity for Rodriguez, but why must he be the only one made to pay a price?

** The Washington Nationals are rapidly becoming an eastern version of the Cincinnati Reds. When Adam Dunn signed a two-year, $20 million deal Wednesday with the Nats, he joined fellow ex-Cincinnati players Austin Kearns, Aaron Boone, Dimitri Young, Wily Mo Pena and Ryan Wagner in the Washington organization. Nationals GM Jim Bowden has also invited several other former Reds such as Javier Valentin and Corey Patterson to the team’s spring training camp.

** The most recent mock draft from NFL draft analyst Chad Reuter has Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford going to Detroit with the No. 1 pick. Reuter has Cleveland taking outside linebacker Aaron Curry of Wake Forest at No. 5 and Cincinnati taking Missouri receiver Jeremy Maclin at No. 6. Reuter forecasts cornerback Malcolm Jenkins as the first Ohio State player taken, going to Green Bay with the No. 8 selection. Two others Buckeyes are projected first-round selections: linebacker James Laurinaitis at No. 20 to Detroit and running back Beanie Wells to Philadelphia at No. 21.

Time For Ohio State To Prove It’s The Best

I’m not usually in the habit of posting my columns from Buckeye Sports Bulletin here on my blog. However, I have received several emails asking me to reprint the column I wrote for our Football Preview issue.

Evidently, people liked it and wanted me to share with those who may not have seen it. Here it is:

Dear Buckeyes,

This is an open letter to you and your coaching staff, one that I would think many members of the Buckeye Nation would write if they had the opportunity.

It will not be a love letter, however. It will contain the cold, hard truth and hopefully you can use it as some small piece of motivation for the upcoming 2008 season.

Most of the college football world has reduced Ohio State football to something of a water cooler joke. As difficult as it may seem for a program that has won 32 of its last 35 regular-season games, taken home three Big Ten championship trophies in a row and reached back-to-back BCS National Championship Games, much of the nation at large is laughing at you.

You are seen as big, lumbering plowboys whose coaching staff doesn’t have the first clue about how to stop spread offenses or speedy teams from the South.

Is that fair? Absolutely not. The truth of the matter is that it is incredibly unfair.

However, in this day and age of instant gratification where the lines are so blurred between perception and reality that they are often interchangeable, the reality is that you have lost back-to-back title games and didn’t look very good either time.

Therefore, the national perception is that what you have accomplished over the past couple of years is nothing more than a fluke and anything less than an undefeated Ohio State team in 2008 is undeserving of another chance to play for the national championship.

It seems to me, therefore, that you have one option and one option only – you need to win all of your games this year.

I know that task is much easier said than done. In the entire history of Ohio State football, there have been but five teams to make it through an entire season without a loss or tie, and there have been only two in the last 40 years.

Consider, however, the alternative of anything less than perfection. There are thousands upon thousands of former Buckeyes who won more than their share of games during their careers. There are only a select few, however, who earned the right to be called national champions. It’s a life-altering experience that money can’t buy.

And I’m not talking about momentary glory. I’m talking about the pride you will carry until the day you take your last breath. I’m talking about the special place where you will reside – not only today but for all time – in the hearts of fans of the scarlet and gray.

By all rights, you should be the latest team in an ongoing Ohio State football dynasty. You should be embarking upon a season for the ages. You should be playing for college football immortality. You should be playing for the school’s fifth national championship in seven years.

No one who witnessed the wild championship ride in 2002 would dispute the fact that the Buckeyes of that season overachieved themselves into a national title. Talent-wise, that team couldn’t hold a candle to you. Somehow, though, they kept finding ways to win. Maybe it was because they weren’t supposed to. The point is that they did.

The following year could have been just as magical had it not been for the Maurice Clarett circus and all of the anguish it caused the program. With a healthy and clear-headed Clarett in 2003, there is no doubt in my mind that OSU would have made a run at back-to-back national championships. Even with all of the turmoil on and off the field, the Buckeyes lost only twice – to Wisconsin and Michigan – and both times because they couldn’t muster any kind of running attack. The Badgers held them to 69 yards in a 17-10 loss at Madison, and they managed only 54 on the ground in a 35-21 loss at Ann Arbor.

I will concede that neither 2004 nor 2005 had national championship potential. But you cannot convince me that your team couldn’t have and shouldn’t have won the title in the 2006 and ’07 seasons, campaigns that were totally different in terms of personnel but remarkably similar when it came to wins and losses.

Many of you were around in 2006 when the team featured some of the most explosive players in the history of the program. Yet, somehow, some way, when it came time to step on college football’s biggest stage, the team played like some sixth-place finisher from a mid-major conference. If anyone who participated in that lame performance is not ashamed of himself, perhaps organized athletics is not your calling.

I watched Ohio State play every game of that 2006 season and I also had a pretty good working knowledge of the Florida team it played that night in Arizona. Even knowing what I know now, I would have a tough time picking the Gators to win that game if the teams were matched against one another again next week.

To be perfectly blunt, that game should have been a victory for you, that season should have ended with a national championship, and the fact that it didn’t still leaves the sourest of tastes some 20 months later.

That 2006 team was seemingly invincible but evidently didn’t have the will to finish what would have been a season Buckeye fans would have continued talking about for decades.

Then there is last season. Most of you guys who made up the nucleus of that team overachieved your way to the national championship game – much like the 2002 squad did. As the victories began to pile up, most people quickly forgot all the dark clouds that hung over the program this time last year. No one knew how you were going to replace a Heisman Trophy quarterback, two receivers that were first-round NFL draft picks, a 1,000-yard rusher and eight other starters.

Also, that schedule the so-called experts enjoyed bashing later on didn’t seem so easy at the start of the season. You had potential landmines including a road test at Washington, a dangerous team that had beaten OSU each of the previous two times the Buckeyes had visited Husky Stadium.

The Big Ten schedule-makers didn’t do you any favors, either. They had given you back-to-back road assignments beginning in late September with contests at Minnesota and Purdue, and heaped on the added task of making both of those games night-time affairs. You also had to make a trip to Penn State for another prime-time game under the lights, knowing full well that Happy Valley was the site of a 17-10 loss in 2005 that ended any hopes of your rematch with Texas in the national championship game that season.

And there was the season finale in Ann Arbor against a team with a bunch of talented seniors who wanted nothing more than to beat you in the final game of their careers at Michigan Stadium.

Yet with the one hiccup at home against Illinois, you found yourselves in the championship game again, this time against a two-loss LSU team whose defense had been exposed by the likes of Kentucky and Arkansas. Those were the same Kentucky and Arkansas teams that finished last year with five losses apiece.

You all seemed to talk a good game before the title contest – the requisite indignation about the criticism-filled DVD compiled by the coaching staff, staying away from the party scene on Bourbon Street and insisting that going to New Orleans was nothing but a business trip.

Then adversity popped you in the mouth in the first half and LSU somehow managed to score 31 points in a row against a defense that hadn’t allowed more than 28 points in any of its previous games. Not that the offense was much help. While the Tigers were piling up all of those points, the offense was stuck in neutral. And I haven’t forgotten special teams. A blocked field goal and a roughing penalty on an LSU punt just poured gas on the fire.

The rest, as they say, is history and there is nothing you can do about it now. The only thing that remains within your control is your future, and despite what the babbling bobble heads on ESPN may say, your future is an extremely bright one.

No team in college football in 2008 has more talent than you. No team has more experience than you. No team has more returning starters than you. No team has more candidates for postseason awards than you. And no team has the chance to make more history than you.

I know that you have already made the sacrifices necessary to go for a national championship. I know about the countless hours in the weight room since late January, the gallons of sweat you’ve spent on the practice field during 7-on-7 drills this summer, the hours upon hours of film study.

But listen up, guys. Every young man who plays major college football makes those sacrifices. Those things alone don’t make national champions. You have to want it. You can’t just talk about wanting it. You have to want it – you have to want it so deep within your bone marrow that you’d walk through hell in a gasoline suit to get it.

If you don’t want it that badly, you can resign yourself to personal glory and soothe yourself with a nice, fat NFL contract next year. After all, only one of Ohio State’s six Heisman Trophy winners ever won a national championship ring. Most of them came close, of course, but no one gets a trophy for getting close.

If you want it – truly want it – go out and get it. No team on your schedule – not even supposedly mighty USC – is as good as you are.

On paper, you are the best team in college football. All you have to do is go out and prove it.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to Don Grate, a star on the OSU basketball and baseball teams during the mid-1940s. Born Aug. 27, 1923, in Greenfield, Ohio, Grate was a two-time All-Big Ten performer in basketball and earned All-America honors in 1945. On the diamond, Grate was a storm-armed pitcher who logged 95 strikeouts in 89 career innings. Nicknamed “Buckeye,” Grate later appeared in seven games over two seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945 and ’46, and played two games in the NBA with the Sheboygan Redskins during the 1949-50 season. Grate also holds the world record for longest throw of a baseball – an incredible 445 feet, 1 inch, accomplished in August 1953.

Also celebrating birthdays today: keyboardist Daryl Dragon (the Captain half of Seventies hitmakers The Captain & Tennille); former Bond girl Barbara Bach (and Mrs. Ringo Starr); veteran character actor G.W. Bailey (Sgt. Rizzo on “M*A*S*H,” Lt. Harris in the “Police Academy” movies, and currently Detective Lt. Provenza on “The Closer”); Alabama guitarist and fiddle player Jeff Cook; former MLB third baseman and manager Buddy Bell; Texas football coach Mack Brown; actor Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman); tennis player John Lloyd (and ex-Mr. Chris Evert); two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer; actress Chandra Wilson (Dr. Miranda Bailey on “Grey’s Anatomy”); No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal; rapper Mase (born Mason Durrell Betha); Chicago White Sox slugger Jim Thome; and Olympic gold medal skier Jonny Moseley.

Today also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, born Aug. 27, 1908, near Stonewall, Texas, on the Perdernales River.

AND FINALLY

** Despite what you have heard, the NCAA has not ruled against Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk in his quest for a sixth year of eligibility. Mauk is going to get to plead his own case to the NCAA committee on Thursday, but when the governing body will rule is anyone’s guess. Even if he is granted a sixth season, it will be difficult for Mauk to be of much use to UC right away. He hasn’t been allowed to practice with the Bearcats, who open their season Thursday night against Eastern Kentucky.

** Jack Nicklaus believes that the U.S. will regain the Ryder Cup this year even without Tiger Woods. Quoted in the September issue of Golf Digest, Nicklaus said, “Tiger won’t be playing in the matches this year, of course. If he were, I’d consider the Americans big favorites. I still think they’ll win. I just believe we have better players. Europe has a lot of good players and a host of very promising young guys. But who among them has a great record?”

** Sorry to disagree with the Golden Bear, but I think the Americans get beat again. They put too much pressure on themselves during Ryder Cup week, pressure they are not accustomed to while cruising from fat paycheck to fat paycheck on the overly-cushy PGA Tour.

** If you like your spreads thick, check out the Kansas-Florida International contest during opening weekend of the college football season. The Jayhawks are as much as 37-point favorites over FIU, which went 1-11 last year and has lost 23 of its last 24 games. If there was ever a 37-point spread that was safe, it would be this one.

** Speaking of odds, Bodog.com is allowing fans to place wagers on the next NFL player to be arrested. Not surprisingly, re-signed Cincinnati wide receiver Chris Henry is the prohibitive favorite at 4-to-6. Others include Pacman Jones of Dallas (1-to-1), Tank Johnson of Dallas (2-to-1), Ray Lewis of Baltimore (5-to-1), Steve Smith of Carolina (5-to-1) and Kellen Winslow of Cleveland (6-to-1).

** When Bronson Arroyo went all nine innings last night in a 2-1 victory over Houston, the Cincinnati Reds became the last major league team to notch a complete game in 2008. It was the sixth complete game of Arroyo’s career. As a point of reference, Greg Maddux is the active leader in complete games with 109. The all-time leader is Cy Young with 749 … and, no, that’s not a misprint.

** Got an email this week from the National Baseball Hall of Fame about the 10 players, whose careers began in 1942 or earlier, who will be considered for election in December by the Veterans Committee. Among the names of the list are Vern Stephens, a slugging shortstop whose 15-year career between 1941 and 1955 was spent mainly with the St. Louis Browns and Boston Red Sox. Stephens finished in the top 10 in the American League MVP voting six times over an eight-year span, was an eight-time All-Star and had three seasons when he drove in 137 runs or more. He led the Browns to their only AL pennant in 1944, and for the three-year period between 1948 and 1950, he averaged 33 homers, 147 RBI and hit .285 for the Red Sox. My only question: How is Vern Stephens not already in the Hall of Fame?

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