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Tressel talked about faith, football and life

April 19, 2010

Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel is speaking tonight at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Sports Celebration Banquet at the University of Nebraska.

The FCA has a special place in Tressel's heart for a number of reasons.

Tops on the list though happened about 41 years ago.

"I was going into my junior year of high school and my high school coach sent me to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp and I thought I was just going to please him and work on football," Tressel said before he was introduced as the keynote speaker Saturday night at the 43rd-annual Franciscan University of Steubenville's Century Club Awards Dinner.

"I just had a life-changing week.

"It was kind of a build up. The a-ha moment was when Bobby Richardson, the great second baseman for the Yankees, was speaking and that's when it all came together.

"I had no idea how that would change my life, but I wanted to follow that change."

Tressel is 229-78-2 as a college football coach at Youngstown State and Ohio State, winning five national championships.

He has been around football all his life.

His father, Lee, won 34 consecutive games at Mentor High School before becoming the head coach at Massillon High School. The elder Tressel eventually became head coach at Division III Baldwin-Wallace, where he went 155-52-6 from 1958-1980 and won the national championship in 1978.

The younger Tressel is a 1971 Berea High graduate and played four seasons for his father as quarterback, earning all-conference honors as a senior in 1974. He graduated cum laude in 1975 with a degree in education.

He was a graduate assistant at the University of Akron in 1975 and was in grad school together with Steubenville Big Red football coach Reno Saccoccia.

Tressel was a full-time coach for the Zips through the 1978 season under Jim Dennison. He spent the 1979 and 1980 seasons at Miami of Ohio under Tom Reed and the 1981 and 1982 seasons at Syracuse under Dick MacPherson.

He returned to Ohio in 1983 as a member of Earl Bruce's staff and was named head coach at Youngstown State heading into the 1986 campaign.

Tressel went 135-57-2 in Youngstown, winning four Division I-AA national titles. He and his father are the only father-and-son combination ever to win national championships.

"I try to get around to different parts of the state as much as I can. I feel that is part of our responsibility," Tressel said. "We're the flagship school in the state, if you will. We're fortunate to have so many fans, alumni, friends all over the place."

Buckeye fans have been known to whine about what Tressel does and doesn't do on the football field.

He's too conservative offensively, they say.

He doesn't do this, he doesn't do that.

Blah ... blah ... blah.

What he does do on a daily basis is represent Ohio State University with the utmost class and respect.

He is the guy you want leading your program.

The days of Woody Hayes are long over.

You do not see Tressel berating a reporter like the king, Urban Meyer, has done.

You have not seen him unceremoniously dumped, like Charlie Weis.

You do not see the NCAA knocking on his office door because some agent somewhere did something to help one of his players.

You do not see a Mike Leach lawsuit heading toward Buckeye-land any time soon.

What you get is a man who understands his situation. He understands all eyes are on him. He understands the buck stops with him. He understands his players must be pillars of the community.

He understands his faith and is not afraid to share it.

Tressel gets it.

"But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." - James 4:6

Being humble is not exactly a big character trait with a lot of people these days.

If Tressel is not at the top of the list, that role call is relatively short. You can sure put John Wooden there.

You watch the man on television and wonder if that is an act.

It's not.

That's him - vest and all.

He's humble. He's class. He's a man of God.

He's genuine.

"Before we leave to go out on the field at Ohio Stadium or elsewhere when we're playing away, it's a very nervous time," Tressel said. "It's wonderful playing in front of 106,000 people when you're playing well. When you're not playing well, sometimes you wish you were on the road.

"Our guys are nervous. I'm nervous.

"They know when they run out of the tunnel and the ball is kicked off, there's going to be millions of television sets ... there's going to be 12 or 13 million people in the state of Ohio alone ... they set their weddings by when we play. It's important to them. It makes me nervous.

"The last thing that we say before we go out on that field, after we pray together, we say a little poem to remind ourselves really of what is needed at that moment, just to calm ourselves and calm our nerves, and remind ourselves of what is expected of each of us.

"It's a poem by Edward Everett Hale. I've seen it written a number of different ways and I suppose maybe we have our own version of it and is has about six or seven stanzas. We're only smart enough to remember the first stanza. But, it's very important to us because it reminds us of what's needed at that moment.

"It's entitled 'I am Only One.'

"If you think about it, that's all we need at that moment from every member of our football family. We need every player who is going to be out there and have a chance to play, to do what they can do. Just be the best them that they are.

"And, our coaches. Whatever it is they can, they'll just do that and we'll be fine.

"And those who do not get on the field and spend the afternoon on the sideline, whatever it is they can do, whether it's a hug or encouragement or screaming and yelling or just creating that electricity - whatever it happens to be that they can do, if we'll all just do what we can do, we'll be pleased with the results."

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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