Tressel Gets His Chance to Recruit LeBron
By Brandon Castel
It was LeBron James’ party, but with a late-arriving guest of honor, another Ohio icon took center stage.
More than 4,000 fans gathered in InfoCision Stadium on the University of Akron's campus to celebrate the city’s first ever “Hometown Hero Award,” which was to be presented to Akron’s most famous son.
The ceremony had nearly ended by the time The King arrived—entering through a side gate—to claim his crystal trophy, but in the meantime fans were treated to a video message from someone who knows a thing or two about crystal trophies.
“Everyone in the state of Ohio wants you to be a Cavalier forever,” Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel said in a message aimed as much at the fans in attendance as the basketball legend they were gathered to celebrate.
“We have great things we can do down the road and we can't do them without you.”
Officially, it marks the second time Tressel has attempted to recruit LeBron for the state of Ohio, only this time it’s a lot more serious. When he took over at Ohio State in 2001, Tressel immediately began scouring the state for top talent. What he found was an all-state receiver at St. Vincent-St. Mary with unlimited potential.
“He's so competitive and so physical,” Tressel said on the Dan Patrick show last May.
“The speed at which he goes at 265 pounds, I don't know if there's anyone in the world — at that size — who moves like that. I remember watching his high school football film, I mean it was frightening.”
Tressel loved the idea of taking that frightening speed and lining it up at wide receiver, a position where LeBron dominated at the high school level. James finished his junior season with 57 receptions for 1,160 yards and 16 touchdowns, guiding the Irish to the state semifinals.
But the young, baby-faced LeBron was also tearing it up on the basketball court, and it didn’t take long from Tressel to realize there would be no collegiate athletics for the future Ohio Mr. Basketball.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Tressel has spent the better part of his 57 years in the Buckeye State. After playing quarterback for his dad, Lee Tressel, at Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, Tressel was actually a graduate assistant for the football team at the University of Akron from 1974-78.
He was already coaching the quarterbacks at Ohio State by the time LeBron James was born in 1984, and has spent all but two of his years as a college football coach in the state of Ohio (Tressel had a brief foray in the state of New York as the quarterbacks coach at Syracuse from 1981-82).
With all the people pulling him in different directions, LeBron is unlikely to feel swayed much by the pleading words of a collegiate football coach. Then again, he has always had a unique relationship with Tressel and the university from his days in high school when he dreamt of being a two-sport star for the Buckeyes before ultimately deciding to jump straight from high school to the pros.
The Cleveland star has been on hand for a number of Ohio State’s biggest games in recent years, including Texas in 2006 and Penn State in 2008. He was also recognized with a ceremonious No. 23 Ohio State basketball jersey by current hoops Head Coach Thad Matta and his players last year during a preseason game between the Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics at Value City Arena.
When he finally made his way into the arena Saturday, LeBron had this to say to those still waiting to catch a glimpse of their hometown hero.
“Akron is my home, it's my life,” said James, who is considering a future with the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers along with the hometown Cavaliers.
“Everything I do is for this city. I'm going to continue to do great things. I love every last one of you all. Akron is home.”
Tressel—along with the rest of state—is hoping James will continue call Ohio home for the next decade.
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