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.
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.
** 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.