Football Returns

March 31, 1999

The Ohio State University Buckeyes, under the direction of 12th year head coach John Cooper, opened spring drills Tuesday, March 30, and will conclude them on Saturday, April 24. All practices at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center will start at 3:30 p.m. except for the three Saturday practices. Times for those days are to be announced.

Two quarters. Actually, it was less than two quarters.

Looking back on 1998 - an 11-1, Sugar Bowl championship and co-Big Ten Conference championship season for the Buckeyes - less than two quarters of football was all that separated John Cooper's 11th Ohio State team from a chance at the schools first national championship since 1968. The Buckeyes were the nations number one team for a school record-tieing 10-consecutive weeks and in November were leading dangerous Michigan State by 15 midway through the third quarter, but MSU rallied. The Buckeyes lost.

Ohio State rebounded, however, and in dominating fashion with wins over Iowa, Michigan and Texas A&M to finish the season ranked No. 2 nationally by both major polls, with at least 10 wins for the fourth consecutive season (and the fifth time in the last six years) and all the while leaving lingering thoughts that this Ohio State was the best team in the country in 1998.

Cooper, who has completed 22 seasons as a head footbal coach including 11 at Ohio State, has been down that undefeated path before and he is building as fine a collegiate coaching resume as any active coach in the business. Period. With an Ohio State record of 97-33-4, Cooper is the second-winningest coach in OSU history - behind Woody Hayes 205 victories - and he has the third-longest coaching tenure behind Hayes (28 seasons) and John W. Wilce (16).

A 1998 finalist for the Paul "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year award and a semifinalist for the Football News Coach of the Year award, Cooper is the sixth-winningest active collegiate coach with a career mark of 179-73-6. He has now guided five straight Ohio State teams into a New Years Day bowl game and each of his last four Ohio State teams to at least 10 victories. The former is part of 10 consecutive bowl appearances for the Buckeyes under Cooper. The latter is an accomplishment that only two other current head coaches can match (Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Phillip Fulmer at Tennessee). Additionally, Cooper's Buckeyes have won 62 games the last six seasons and they are one of only five schools to win at least 40 games the last four seasons. And in the decade of the 1990s, Ohio State has an 85-23-3 record, the eighth-best record in the decade among all Division IA schools.

Regarding student-athletes, the honors, awards and accomplishments that Ohio State student-athletes have garnered under Cooper is matched by no other active coach. Consider, that under John Cooper...

  • 17 Buckeyes have won first-team All-America honors;
  • 12 have been first-round NFL draft picks;
  • Six have won National Football Foundation Scholarships;
  • Five have been named first-team Academic All-Americans;
  • Nine have won major athletic and academic awards in the last four years alone; Buckeyes have won the Heisman Trophy (Eddie George in 1995), the Vincent dePaul Draddy Award (Bobby Hoying in 1995), the Maxwell Award (Eddie George in 1995), two Lombardi Awards (Orlando Pace consecutively in 1995 and 96, the first to ever accomplish the feat), the Outland Trophy (Orlando Pace in 1996), the Biletnikoff Award (Terry Glenn in 1995), the Butkus Award (Andy Katzenmoyer in 1997) and the Thorpe Award (Antoine Winfield in 1998).

    Cooper's 22 collegiate teams have, traditionally, been extremely strong in conference play and a 108-34-6 all-time conference record is testament to that fact. Coopers Ohio State teams are 62-22-4 in the Big Ten Conference, including a 39-8-1 mark the last six years. His three Arizona State teams were 13-6-2 in the Pac 10 Conference and his eight Tulsa teams were 33-6.

    In terms of championships, Cooper has coached nine teams to conference championships (and another five to second-place finishes), including the 1998, 1996 and 1993 Ohio State teams that shared the Big Ten title. The 1996 squad capped a brilliant 11-1 season with a thrilling come-from-behind victory over Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.

    Ohio State University head coach John Cooper has been in this situation before. Many times, in fact.

    The sixth-winningest active coach in all of college football enters his 12th spring drills as head coach of the Buckeyes with a task of building another Big Ten championship-caliber team. It will be a difficult assignment because gone from last season are the talents of at least two handfuls of starters, All-Americans and soon-to-be high NFL draft picks.

    But if history is any indication, Coopers 1999 Buckeyes will be a force again on the national scene and a legitimate "player" in the Bowl Championship Series standings.

    Consider how Cooper and his Buckeyes have responded, rebounded and rebuilt most recently. Ohio State lost three first-round draft picks and a three-year starter and record-setting quarterback following the 1995 season, yet came back in 1996 to go 11-1 and finish No. 2 in the nation. Cooper and staff then lost eight draft picks off that 1996 team, including three more first rounders, yet coached the 1997 team, in a rebuilding year, to 10 wins and a berth in the Sugar Bowl. This past season the Buckeyes, the No. 1 team in the nation for 10-consecutive weeks, were expected to be hot and they were, rebounding from their only loss of the season with resounding wins over Iowa, Michigan and Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl to cap another 11-1 campaign with another No. 2 final ranking.

    Now gone from that 1998 team are three All-Americans and nine starters, including three more sure first-round draft picks and another record-setting quarterback.

    So where does that leave Ohio States fortunes for 1999?

    "Ohio State University football is an established program, and one we think is among the elite in college football," Cooper emphasized, "so we are used to losing great players every year and we are used to recruiting great players to replace the ones we lose. Weve got some work to do this spring, particularly at the quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive back positions, but thats football. Its time for some younger guys in the program to step up."

    There are plenty of veterans to lead the way in 1999. Guys like two-time All-American and three-year starting guard Rob Murphy. And all-Big Ten Conference picks Michael Wiley, Nail Diggs, Ahmed Plummer and Ben Gilbert are among the 42 returning lettermen and the 13 returning starters. All Sports Illustrated Bowl Team pick Gary Berry returns at safety.

    Among the returnees are four of the five starting offensive linemen (left tackle Tyson Walter, center Kurt Murphy and right guard Ben Gilbert have started alongside Rob Murphy for two-consecutive years). Savvy fullback Matt Keller should be seen in the starting line-up for a third-consecutive season. All four starters along the defensive line return (juniors Rodney Bailey, Joe Brown and Brent Johnson and sophomore Ryan Pickett) as do two receivers who reek with athleticism - juniors Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo. Mix in enough other talented veterans and young players and one can see reason as to why Ohio State should field another strong team in 1999.


    Coach - Tim Salem
    Key Returnees - Steve Bellisari and Austin Moherman
    Key Losses - Record setting Joe Germaine and back-up Mark Garcia

    John Cooper & Co. are looking to replace Joe Germaine, who set 11 school passing records, and his back-up, Mark Garcia, with either (or both) red-shirt sophomore Austin Moherman or true sophomore Steve Bellisari. They are the only two scholarship quarterbacks competing in spring. Together, they have a combined three series of quarterback action - all coming against Toledo last year - to their credit. An example of their lack of experience: tailback Michael Wiley has completed more passes than Moherman and Bellisari combined.

    Bellisari actually played in all 12 games last season on special teams and displayed a fierce competitive drive as well as terrific athleticism. He shared the teams special teams player of the year award with fellow freshman Derek Ross, but his special teams and strong safety days are over.

    Cooper is not worried by the relative inexperience of either quarterback.

    "Its just a cycle that you go through every three or four years," Cooper said. "Neither Austin or Steve are established collegiate quarterbacks, but we feel that both of them can lead this team, and we feel that each will give the other great competition during spring drills. We were in much the same situation that we were in three years ago when we had to replace Bob Hoying. I think we did all right the last three years with Stan Jackson and Joe Germaine at the helm."

    Coach - Tim Spencer
    Key Returnees - 1,235-yard rusher Michael Wiley; Jonathan Wells; Derek Combs
    Key Losses - Joe Montgomery

    Last fall Sports Illustrated set out to build the perfect college football team in the 1990s, and the editors chose Ohio State University to supply the tailbacks. The Buckeyes have featured a 1,000-yard rusher in six out of the last nine years, including 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, and tailback will be a team strength in 1999 with the return of 1,235-yard rusher Michael Wiley and emerging talents Derek Combs and Jonathan Wells.

    Wiley has terrific speed and terrific moves and he "makes great decisions" with the football, according to running backs coach Tim Spencer. His 1,000-yard season was accomplished with the third-fewest carries by any OSU back who has topped 1,000 yards - 198 - and he is developing a tailback toughness. His six 100-yard games included 209 yards vs. Missouri and 120 (off 12 carries) vs. Michigan. The first-team all-Big Ten selection scored 10 rushing touchdowns and he recorded 13 runs of over 20 yards, including a personal best 76-yarder vs. Toledo. He was also the teams third-leading receiver with 27 receptions for 200 yards.

    Wells is a powerful runner who carried 41 times for 197 yards (4.8 average) with two touchdowns last year as a true freshman. Combs, a junior, carried 31 times for 88 yards and is, perhaps, the fastest player on the team. Junior Jerry Westbrooks also figures in the mix.

    FULLBACK Coach - Tim Spencer
    Key Returnees - Two-year starter Matt Keller; Jamar Martin
    Key Losses - None

    The Buckeyes are solid at fullback. Matt Keller carries 22 starts, 521 rushing yards and 52 receptions into his senior season. Although characterized as undersized for the typical I formation fullback, Keller, at 6-0 and nearing 240 pounds, adds powerful blocking abilities to his otherwise savvy repertoire to give Ohio State an added dimension of versatility to the position. Jamar Martin, a battering ram at 6-1 and 235 pounds, was a capable back-up as a true freshman last season who figures to be even better as a sophomore.

    Coach - Mike Jacobs
    Key Returnees - LG Rob Murphy; RG Ben Gilbert; LT Tyson Walter; C Kurt Murphy
    Key Loss - RT Brooks Burris

    Good teams are characterized by strength up the middle, and Ohio State should have that strength this season with four of five starters returning along the offensive line for the second year in a row. Right guard Rob Murphy is a two-time All-American, earning first-team honors last year by the Associated Press and two years ago by the Football News. Left guard Ben Gilbert was named at the conclusion of the 1998 season by the OSU coaching staff as the teams offensive lineman of the year. Kurt Murphy has started the past two years at center and he makes all the line calls and adjustments. And Tyson Walter, the only junior among this foursome, continues to improve and impress at left tackle. That foursome has started together a combined 17 times and their average size is just under 6-5 and 297 pounds.

    Any number of changes may take place this spring along the line in pursuit of a fifth starter. The left tackle position, vacated by Brooks Burris, becomes even more important a position when one considers that it would be the left-handed Bellisaris blind side, if he were in the game. The list of potential candidates to step up is long and loaded with players ready to assume a starting role. All five back-ups from last season return - LT LeCharles Bentley, LG Mike Gurr, C Drew Elford, RG Tam Hopkins and RT Henry Fleming - with Elford the only senior. All are capable of playing different positions. Ready to resume action after sitting out last season after back surgery is Jim Massey. Junior Eric Smith and true sophomore Ivan Douglas are two huge tackles who will also be in the position battle this spring.

    Coach - Bill Conley
    Key Returnees - Steve Wisniewski and Kevin Houser
    Key Loss - John Lumpkin

    The Buckeyes lose a good one in 6-8 John Lumpkin, but return two veteran tight ends who have plenty of plying time. Steve Wisniewski has played extensively as a blocking tight end in 36 of the teams 37 games over the last three seasons. He has caught 15 passes for 218 yards. Kevin Houser, who also long snaps for the Buckeyes, pulled tight end playing time in all 12 games this past season. Red-shirt freshman Darnell Sanders will see plenty of action in the spring as well.

    Coach - Chuck Stobart
    Key Returnees - Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo
    Key Losses - All-American David Boston; Dee Miller

    An area hit hard as the Buckeyes lose the dynamic duo of split end David Boston and flanker Dee Miller, possibly the finest receiving tandem in college this past season and one of the all-time best tandems ever at Ohio State. But theres talent in the waiting.

    Juniors Reggie Germany and Ken-Yon Rambo have waited for their time to fly and it has come. Germany, who also doubles as a hurdler on the track team, displayed acute pass catching skills and graceful athleticism while catching 14 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. Rambo has just three fewer career catches than Germany (15 to 12), but didnt shine like Germany in 1998 due, in part, to a sprained ankle that hobbled him throughout. Still, he came to Ohio State with the highest of high school credentials and he wouldnt be the first with such high school laurels to explode as a junior. Just ask Dee Miller. Behind those two are a handful of underclassmen - Darik Warnke, Vanness Provitt, Chad Cacchio and Tony Locke - who have virtually no big game experience.

    Ends Coach - Shawn Simms
    Tackles Coach - Jim Heacock
    Key Returnees - DE Brent Johnson, DT Joe Brown, DT Ryan Pickett, DE Rodney Bailey
    Key Losses - None

    The front four on defense will be the units foundation. All four starters return - ends Brent Johnson and Rodney Bailey and tackles Joe Brown and Ryan Pickett - as do all four backups. Johnson, Bailey and Brown are all juniors. Pickett is only a sophomore but started nine times as a true freshman.

    Johnson was the surprise of the group last year, leading all linemen in tackles (40) as well as leading the team with seven quarterback sacks. Coaches voted him the teams top defensive linemen at the seasons conclusion. Bailey and Brown are 16- and 17-game start veterans and they keep improving. Both are considered play-makers. Brown played the majority of the 1998 season in pain, the result of a steel plate to help heal a broken left thumb following fall camp surgery. Pickett stepped into the starting lineup in the third game of the season and never vacated it. After a 22 tackle season, he has a bright future. There is lots of experience - and thus lots ofcompetition - among the reserves as well. Tackle Clinton Wayne has eight starts to his credit and end Matt LaVrar has 11. Physical tackle Mike Collins had the third-highest tackle total among the linemen last year - 23 - while playing in 11 games in a supporting role. He and Pickett shared the teams outstanding rookie award on the defensive side of the ball. Another OSU rookie last year, junior college transfer James Cotton, showed speed, athleticism and play-making abilities from his defensive end position. Additionally, Heath Queen and Randy Homa will keep battling for time at tackle and red-shirted freshmen Kenny Peterson and Julius Yeast will battle at end.

    Coach - Fred Pagac
    Key Returnee - Nail Diggs
    Key Losses - Andy Katzenmoyer and Jerry Rudzinski

    Gone is the All-American and Butkus Award winner Andy Katzenmoyer, a three-year starter, and savvy two-year starter Jerry Rudzinski. Finding replacements wont be easy.

    The lone returning starter at linebacker is an incredible talent: junior outside linebacker Nail Diggs, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference pick as a sophomore and a legitimate All-American candidate this season. A true star on this team, Diggs was second (by one tackle) among the Buckeyes last year in tackles with 80 and he led the way with 16 tackles for losses totalling 73 yards. He also had six sacks, an interception, two pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries, one that he returned 47 yards for a touchdown. It was his first season as a linebacker after spending his first two seasons as a defensive end. The list of candidates in spring camp to replace Katzenmoyer in the middle centers around senior Chris Kirk and sophomore Jason Ott. Neither has played extensively in tight situations. Kirk has the most game action - 26 appearances the last three years - while Ott played in 11 last year as a red-shirt freshman. Both players are physically tough and both are right at 6-4 and 240 pounds.

    Juniors Tim Cheatwood and Joe Cooper, two special teams veterans who arent afraid to give or receive a hit, and red-shirt sophomore Courtland Bullard top the list for playing time at outside linebacker. Cooper backed-up Rudzinski all last season with the majority of his 24 tackles coming on special teams. Hes a bit undersized, but has heart and crushes opponents with his hits. Cheatwood backed-up Diggs in 1998 and has size and athletic ability. He totalled 18 tackles. Bullard played limited minutes in two games and ended up getting a medical red-shirt season due to a painful injury near his groin. He is an outstanding athlete who can become a big-time asset at linebacker.

    Coach - Jon Tenuta
    Key Returnees - FS Gary Berry; CB Ahmed Plummer; SS Percy King; CB Nate Clements
    Key Losses - Thorpe Award winner and consensus All-American CB Antoine Winfield; All-American and three-year starting SS Damon Moore

    The good news in the secondary is that Gary Berry and Ahmed Plummer return which will help offset - somewhat - the huge losses of All-Americans Antoine Winfield and Damon Moore. Both returnees will be All-American candidates in 1999. Berry has always been known as a play-maker at free safety with six interceptions, two touchdowns - one off a blocked punt and one off an interception - and seven pass break-ups. He capped his junior season with a terrific effort in the win over Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl, totalling a career-best 12 tackles including 11 solo stops. Plummer is not only an outstanding athlete with exceptional cornerback skills, but also is a tested cornerback. A two-year starter, Plummer has 35 appearances and 25 starts to his credit plus nine pass interceptions and 25 pass break-ups. He led the team in both categories last year.

    Percy King was one of the most improved defensive backs in last years spring drills, but still couldnt unseat Moore as a starter. He has plenty of experience - 27 games - with two interceptions and three blocked kicks and he should be the man to beat out at strong safety.

    Nate Clements backed-up Winfield all last season as a true freshman so he would appear to have the edge at cornerback, although classmate Derek Ross, a special teams hero last year, and junior David Mitchell will be in the cornerback picture. Mitchell will also fight for playing time minutes with sophomore Greg Simpson at free safety. At strong safety, red-shirt freshmen Cie Grant and Donnie Nickey should provide great competition as well.

    Four-year starting punter Brent Bartholomew has graduated. Kicker Dan Stultz (28-of-50 in career field goals) returns. Long-snapper Kevin Houser also returns.

    Ohio State will meet the Miami Hurricanes at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday, Aug. 29 in Kickoff Classic XVII. The game will start at 2:30 p.m. and it will be carried to a national television audience by ABC. This will be Ohio States third appearance in the Kickoff Classic. OSU lost to Alabama, 16-10, in 1986 and defeated Boston College, 38-6, in 1995. Miami defeated Auburn in its only previous Kickoff Classic, 20-18 in 1984. This will be just the second meeting between Ohio State and Miami. The Buckeyes defeated the Hurricanes at Ohio Stadium, 10-0, to open the 1977 season.

    The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cincinnati Bearcats will meet during the 1999 season (Sept. 25 in Ohio Stadium), marking the first time in 68 years that the two schools, separated by about 100 miles of Interstate 71, will meet on the gridiron. Ohio State and UC have met 11 times previously in football with Ohio State holding a 9-2 advantage in wins, but the two last met Oct. 3, 1931 (a 67-6 Ohio State win). The game will be the first of four between the two schools over the next eight years. OSU and UC will play Sept. 21, 2002 in Cincinnati, Sept. 4, 2004 at Ohio Stadium and Sept. 16, 2006 in Ohio Stadium.

    Sean Penny has been granted a medical waiver due to a neck injury suffered this past season and will not play football again. The fullback from Youngstown Ursuline played in only the Toledo game last year as a sophomore.

    Junior kicker Dan Stultz will sit out the 1999 spring drills after undergoing surgery in Feburary to correct a bulging lumbar disc. The surgery at University Hospital went well, according to team trainer Bill Davis, but he will go through a period of inactivity which will cause him to miss spring drills. Davis said that Stultzs progress will be assessed throughout the spring, but that his prognosis for a healthy return this fall looks very good.

    Ohio State is entering its 110th season of collegiate football in 1999. The Buckeyes have an all-time record of 711-276-52 through 109 years of collegiate competition. The Buckeyes are one of just seven programs with at least 700 wins and their all-time winning percentage of .711 is fourth-best among all Division IA schools.

    40 WINS & 10+ WINS
    Ohio State is one of just three teams that has won at least 10 games every year over the last four seasons. The Buckeyes are also one of only six teams that have won 40 games the last four years. This years Ohio State senior class set a new school record with 43 wins over the last four seasons.


    1. Florida State (11-2) 12 Consecutive 2. Florida (10-2) 6 Consecutive 2. Ohio State (11-1) 4 Consecutive 3. Tennessee (13-0) 4 Consecutive


    1. Nebraska 45-5 Tennessee 45-5 3. Florida 44-5 4. Florida State 43-6 5. Ohio State 43-7 6. Kansas State 41-8

    Ohio State has now won or shared 28 Big Ten Conference championships, including three in the last six years under the direction of head coach John Cooper.

    Since Penn State started Big Ten Conference competition in 1993, Ohio State has the best Big Ten Conference record and the most Big Ten championships. The Buckeyes have won 82.3 percent of their games and have claimed three Big Ten championships during that time.


    1. Ohio State 39-8-1 (.823) 3 Titles 2. Penn State 36-12 (.750) 1 Title 3. Michigan 35-13 (.729) 2 Titles

    Ohio State has been a force in college football in the 1990s, with an 85-23-3 record and a winning percentage of .779, including a 62-12-1 record the past six years (.833). Coach John Cooper has guided the Buckeyes to three co-Big Ten Conference championships (1993, 1996 and 1998) and his players have been named first-team All-American 19 times. Additionally, Buckeyes have won virtually every major award possible. Consider, that in the last six years Buckeyes have won the Heisman Trophy (Eddie George in 1995), two Lombardi Awards (Orlando Pace in 1995 and 1996), the Outland Trophy (Orlando Pace in 1996), the Thorpe Award (Antoine Winfield in 1998), the Butkus Award (Andy Katzenmoyer in 1997), the Biletnikoff Award (Terry Glenn in 1995), the Maxwell Award (Eddie George in 1995), the Doak Walker Award (Eddie George in 1995), three Chicago Tribune Silver Football awards as the Big Ten MVP (Eddie George in 1995, Orlando Pace in 1996 and Joe Germaine in 1998), three National Football Foundation Scholarships (Joey Galloway in 1994, Bobby Hoying in 1995 and Greg Bellisari in 1996) and the Vincent dePaul Draddy Award (Bobby Hoying in 1995).

    5-0 vs. TOP 25 TEAMS
    Ohio State's 11-1 campaign in 1998, including a 7-1 mark in the Big Ten Conference, included a 5-0 mark in games against top 25 opponents. The wins: 34-17 at No. 11 West Virginia; 35-14 over No. 21 Missouri; 28-9 over No. 7 Penn State; 31-16 over No. 11 Michigan and 24-14 over No. 8 Texas A&M in the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

    -Go Bucks!-