Players behind Tressel despite NCAA violations.

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Last updated: 05/04/2011 5:16 PM

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Despite NCAA Violations, Former Players Firmly Behind Tressel

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jim Tressel has been called a liar, a fake and a phony.

Doug Worthington
Photo by Jim Davidson
Doug Worthington

He has been mocked in the public forum for his ostensibly hypocritical behavior over the last year, but not everyone sees Tressel’s actions as out of character for Ohio State’s outwardly pious head coach.

“He looked out for his players, and rightfully so. Obviously, they got him where he’s at,” former Ohio State captain Doug Worthington said in an exclusive interview with the-Ozone.

“As far as the whole FBI situation, he did what’s best for those kids. They didn’t tamper with the FBI situation. There’s a lot more than sports writers and other people could really fathom that’s a lot higher than sports.”

Being one of Tressel’s former players doesn’t exactly make Worthington an objective bystander in the recent events surrounding Ohio State football. He is naturally going to give his coach the benefit of the doubt, but Worthington may have a little more insight into the details of the situation than most after visiting with Tressel back in March.

Doug Worthington celebrates a play.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Doug Worthington

“I definitely appreciate the man. I talked to him afterward and we actually went down to his house and played some pool with my high school coaches, who actually coached with Tressel,” said Worthington, who is in Columbus this off-season because of the NFL lockout.

 “He doesn’t really let anything bother him. He’s been taking it in stride. He made a mistake and hopefully the NCAA doesn’t try to make an example out of him and just let him serve his five games and get back to Tresselball.”

During his press conference with Ohio State President Gordon Gee and Athletic Director Gene Smith back on March 8, Tressel said he was scared for the well being of his players after receiving emails from Columbus attorney Chris Cicero last April.

In the emails, Cicero alerted Tressel to the fact that at least two of his current players—Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey—were involved with selling memorabilia to the owner of a tattoo parlor named Edward Rife, who was being investigated for drug-trafficking.

“As we sit in homes, we talk about how we're gonna take care of these young people, and we're gonna treat them like they're our own,” Tressel said during that press conference.

“(The email) was pretty graphically outlining some of the parties involved and was obviously of tremendous concern to me. It elicited obviously a different emotion than you typically get from someone who needs a hospital call or a visit.”

This notion that Tressel was looking out for the safety of his players was largely dismissed after his email exchanges with Cicero were made public. In his responses to Cicero, a former Ohio State walk-on under Earle Bruce, Tressel says things like “I will keep pounding these kids and hope they grow up.”

He also asked for more names so he could “hold some collateral” over the guys involved. Those don’t exactly sound like the terrified words of a coach whose first concern was the safety of his players, but Tressel did forward the email on to Pryor’s mentor, Ted Sarniak.

He also called FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas within days of receiving the first email. The agent told The Columbus Dispatch the two did not discuss the situation involving the players’ interaction with Rife, who was being investigated by the FBI, but no one knows for sure what was actually discussed.

“We’re not dealing with just any type of investigation. This was a big drug bust,” said Worthington, who played with both Pryor and Posey as a senior on the 2009 Ohio State team.

“I guess the tattoo shop was into drugs and other stuff, so bringing those guys out and saying something about it could have tampered with that situation. The guys at the tattoo shop didn’t know that the FBI was looking at them, so at the end of the day those kids could have got ran up on or anything could have happened.”

Rife’s tattoo parlor was eventually raided, along with his home, where the FBI discovered at least 36 items relating to Ohio State football. Those items ranged from Big Ten championship rings to signed helmets to game-worn cleats and jerseys.

Most outside the program have concluded that Tressel was primarily looking out for himself and the Ohio State program when he failed to report the information he received from Cicero last April, but Worthington says players—past, present and future—don’t look at it that way.

In their eyes, Tressel did right by his players first and put their well being ahead of his own.

“This is a crazy world. We could have had some issues where T.P. got held up at gunpoint if they thought that Terrelle told on them or something. Anything could have happened with that situation and I really think Tressel had their lives in interest,” said Worthington, now a defensive tackle with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“When you’re messing with guys who are into that kind of stuff, a pair of gold pants or some bowl rings for a kid’s life is not worth it. They would do some crazy stuff if they thought someone was snitching or ratting on them.”

If Tressel was indeed afraid for his players, his fears were realized in December when Ohio State received a letter from the United States Department of Justice outlining the involvement of as many as 10 players—past and present—with Rife.

Even then, Tressel chose not to come forward with what he had already known for eight months. It wouldn’t be until after the Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas that Ohio State officials uncovered the email exchanges with Cicero, but none of Tressel’s actions to this day have changed anything in the eyes of Worthington.

“As far as Tressel, he’s a man of his word and I love him to death,” he said matter-of-factly. 

“He’s one of the top 10 people in the world. I appreciate that man.”

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