Queen City Takes Center Stage for Ohio State Spring Game
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Call it an olive branch, a recruiting trip, or simply a sign of good faith. On the surface, Ohio State’s decision to play this year’s spring game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati appears to be an obvious maneuver by the Buckeyes.
It would seem to be a savvy move by Urban Meyer to raise awareness in a metropolitan area of more than 2 million people who haven’t always felt the love from Ohio’s capital city, or Ohio’s flagship football program.
There are only two scholarship players from the Queen City on the current OSU football roster. Both Andrew Norwell (Anderson HS) and Adolphus Washington (Taft HS) are expected to start for the Buckeyes this fall, but the two cities have often felt like distant cousins, only meeting up for the occasional wedding every few years.
DB Coach Kerry Coombs
Photo by Dan Harker
“There does seem to be some sort of disconnect,” said Ohio State secondary coach Kerry Coombs.
“I still couldn’t tell you where anything is in (Columbus), but if you want to ask me where I can get a cheese coney up here, I found that out right away. You understand what I’m saying?
“Cincinnati is different,” Coombs added, “it is unique. That’s OK. Cincinnati should celebrate who they are, and I do as a Cincinnatian.”
Coombs isn’t just from the Queen City, he was the king of that town once upon a time. Though he graduated from the University of Dayton, Coombs is a Cincinnati guy through and through. He was raised in Colerain and coached at Greenhills, Lakota and Loveland before taking the big job at Colerain High School back in 1991.
DB Coach Kerry Coombs
Photo by Dan Harker
Since then, they built a statue for Coombs, who left his job as an assistant at the University of Cincinnati to join Meyer’s staff in Columbus last year. Meyer was well aware of Coombs’ background as a living legend in the Queen City, which doesn’t hurt Ohio State’s presence in the city that has often been viewed as a stepchild of the OSU football program.
“Coach Coombs has helped, and Tim Hinton obviously knows Cincinnati since he coached at UC for a long time,” Meyer said this week.
“So I think we're doing great. I love Cincinnati.”
Meyer himself is quite familiar with the area. Although he grew up northeast of Cleveland, in Ashtabula, the 48-year-old Meyer was a Cincinnati Bengals fan as a kid. He also played cornerback at UC, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1986.
Maybe that is part of the reason the city was more than willing to embrace him when he took a goodwill tour of the area’s top high school football programs back in January.
“They could not have been more gracious, more welcoming, and more eager for us to be a part of Cincinnati,” said Coombs, who accompanied Meyer on his voyage to southwest Ohio.
That type of treatment is expected just about everywhere Meyer goes these days. He is a true rockstar in college football, so it’s not as if the city has suddenly warmed itself to all things Ohio State.
The city is still very mixed in its allegiances, at least according to Cincinnati native Andrew Norwell, who was a standout lineman at Anderson High School before signing with the Buckeyes four years ago.
“A lot of people are Cincinnati fans. There’s Notre Dame and Kentucky fans. It’s just a mix,” he said Wednesday.
“It’s not like Cleveland where everybody loves Ohio State, but there’s a big Ohio State presence, I would say. Everyone I knew in high school liked Ohio State. They all liked Cincinnati, too. It goes both ways.”
The Buckeyes are aware not everyone in Cincinnati is going to welcome their presence at Paul Brown Stadium on Saturday. The Bearcats certainly won’t be thrilled to see scarlet and gray in the streets of Cincinnati, but the opportunity was simply too good for Meyer and his staff to pass up.
Especially with the renovations going on at Ohio Stadium back in Columbus this spring.
“It’s an opportunity for some exposure with some kids who maybe couldn’t get to a spring game,” said Hinton, Ohio State’s tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator who coached at Notre Dame and Cincinnati, along with a number of high school programs across southwest Ohio.
“It’s an opportunity to probably get a little more media (attention) and get on talk radio and have people talk about you in that area. That part is all positive.”
Meyer insists it wasn’t his idea to intentionally move this year’s spring game south to Cincinnati, but he was all for it when approached by OSU athletic director Gene Smith.
He also plans to make sure his players get the most out of their unique spring road trip.
“We're going to take our players to the Reds museum,” he said. “We're going to give them a little taste of Cincinnati afterward with Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter's ice cream and some Skyline (chili).
“So we're going to do it right.”
They will also hear from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who plans to speak with the Buckeyes this weekend during their visit to the stadium where his NFL team plays its home football games.
It’s only one day, and one game, but it the fact Meyer and Ohio State chose Cincinnati over Cleveland says a lot about the focus of this new coaching staff. The area has only produced eight players who signed with the Buckeyes over the last 10 years. That’s almost half of what areas like Dayton and Toledo have sent to Columbus.
“Coach Meyer is working really hard to bridge whatever gap there might be,” said Coombs, who grew up rooting for the Buckeyes in Cincinnati.
Ohio State signed the top player in the area this past February, and Middletown standout Jalin Marshall will enroll in June after the completion of spring practice. He might have been the top overall player in the state last year, which was also true of Adolphus Washington two years ago.
“Adolphus Washington could potentially be a great player at Ohio State,” Meyer was quick to note.
“Recently, we’ve done well down there. There’s really good players and really good high school coaches.”
The Buckeyes have also landed a verbal commitment from Sam Hubbard for the class for 2014. The Cincinnati Moeller linebacker is considered to be one of the top five players in the state of Ohio for next year, and certainly the premier prospect in the Queen City heading into his senior season.
“I wasn't here in years past, but I have heard a lot of, ‘Well, we haven't done well in Cincinnati,’ ” Ohio State’s second-year coach said.
“I think we're doing great. I think we're killing it.”
If that’s true, Saturday will just be the icing on the cake.
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