View Full Version : 3 from Ohio to Steelers to Super Bowl

01-25-2009, 12:05 PM
3 from Ohio to Steelers to Super Bowl - Page 2
A select few start out in Ohio and make it to the Super Bowl. Three of them will be there with the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.


Ben Roethlisberger "He was my first recruit ever," said Jon Wauford, football coach at the University of Findlay, the northwest Ohio town where they grew up about two blocks from each other.

Wauford first heard about some middle-school boy being a special athlete from a buddy of his who coached Findlay's eighth-grade team. The boy played a little quarterback, but was mainly a wide receiver. In fact, he didn't get to quarterback the varsity until his senior year.

That was when Wauford, by then a Miami University assistant, zeroed in on him.

Future NFL quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich had just torn up the Mid-American Conference for Marshall. Miami was desperate for a guy like that.

"At that point," Wauford said, "we were leaving no stone unturned."

While on a road trip at Central Michigan, Wauford had packed film of the first three games of Roethlisberger's senior season. He and other Miami coaches spent that Friday night watching the lanky kid rip opponents apart with his improvisation.

"It was just his playmaking ability," Wauford recalled. "What we saw then is what you see now - the longer the play lasted, the worse it got for the other team. It's the best part of his game."

Wauford offered him a scholarship that night. Or tried. He couldn't reach the quarterback until the next morning. Roethlisberger didn't accept right away, but wound up at Miami anyway and rewrote almost every school passing record.

Wauford remembers the first time he sat down with Roethlisberger at Findlay High and asked the recruit his goals. "Right out of the gate he said, 'I want to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League.' "

But the coach was a skeptic until midway through Roethlisberger's freshman year at Miami.

One day after practice, he watched as the quarterback tossed footballs from the center of the field at a trash can set up 35 yards down a sideline to simulate the target for a fade route.

"I saw him make seven in a row," Wauford said. "At that point, I thought, well, we might have something here."


James Harrison - By kickoff, the inspiring tale of a man whom the Steelers released three times before being voted the league's top defensive player this season will be told over and over in an endless loop of Super Bowl hype.

Harrison bucked long odds, but Matt Rayl recognized never- quit qualities in his former teammate a decade ago.

"It was my hunch that if he stayed with it, he could play at the next level," said Rayl, who played middle linebacker at Kent State from 1997-2000 - the final two seasons when Harrison defended the strong side. "He'd do stuff on the field that most other people just weren't able to do. He definitely had all the tools."

Rayl first realized Harrison, then a sophomore, could be a special player during an intrasquad scrimmage just before the season opener. In a short-yardage play, Harrison "vaulted over the line like it was nothing" to nail the tailback cold.

"I was like, damn, that was pretty amazing," he said.

Rayl, now in the Navy attending bomb-tech school in Florida, said the former Akron Coventry High School star outworked everyone - in games, on the practice field and especially in the gym.

"You could definitely tell when it came to James that he was a specimen in the weight room," Rayl said. "He was a beast."

But NFL Defensive Player of the Year? After going undrafted and then being waived?

"A little bit surprised," Rayl admitted, "but I'm so proud of him."

Tight end

Sean McHugh- Mark Iammarino was in his first year as football coach at Chagrin Falls High School, hired to fix the team after a string of losing seasons. He took one look at a boy trapped in a man's body who dominated his eighth-grade opponents. This, the coach said to himself, is the kind of kid you could build a program around.

And he did.

By the time McHugh graduated in 2000, the 6-5, 245-pound fullback had set single-season (2,260 yards) and career (5,855 yards) rushing records that still stand.

He started every game since the opener of his freshman season, often carrying the ball 30 to 40 times per game. By his junior year, about every major college was throwing scholarship offers his way. (Penn State won.)

The coach was first struck by McHugh's potential after two huge games during his sophomore season. Against Hawken, he carried the ball 39 times for 224 yards, three touchdowns and a two-point conversion, carrying defenders on his back to win, 35-34. On defense, he also had 12 solo tackles, two sacks and caused two fumbles.

In the other, Chagrin and Wickliffe entered the game undefeated. McHugh rushed for 238 yards on 44 carries and three touchdowns in a 38-37 loss.

"I can remember thinking, 'Wow, the sky's the limit for this kid,' " Iammarino said.

McHugh had every right to be profanityfilterprofanityfilterprofanityfilterprofa nityfiltery. Instead, he was humble, a leader who made his teammates feel important, said Randy Bly, McHugh's blocking back and friend through middle and high school.

"He just set the example," said Bly, who attends medical school at Loyola in Chicago.

In freshman health class, McHugh once mentioned his goal was to play in the NFL. Now his number 49 Detroit Lions jersey hangs in the school wing honoring former Chagrin athletes who made the pros.

That's right, the 0-16 Lions. Detroit cut him just before the season started. Then Pittsburgh picked him up.

"And here he is," Iammarino said, "going to the Super Bowl."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

blubinger@plaind.com, 216-999-5531

01-25-2009, 12:51 PM
I remember the buzz around Ben going into his Sophomore year. When Marshall and Miami met in November of 02 it was billed as a major conference and divison game for the MAC. Byron didnt get to play though cause of his injured leg he sustained at Akron the week before. That game was one of the best I had ever witnessed. Marshall won on the last play of the game. The next season Ben torched our butts and the rest they say is history.

01-25-2009, 01:26 PM
That was a good read, I read it in the sports section of the Cleveland Plain Dealer while at work last night/this morning (I work nights).

People are so pissed that we have Ben and Harrison around here.