John Kerr is coming to Columbus.
He's been trying to make that official announcement since he told the Indiana Hoosier coaching staff last November that he was leaving and since he told the Ohio State staff, subsequently, that he was coming to OSU. Rumors had it that he was heading to Notre Dame. Kerr says that was never true. "I always wanted to be a Buckeye. I wanted to play in the Big Ten and show everyone in Columbus what I could do."
Why the long circuitous route to Ohio State and why the long-postponed announcement? As to the latter, Kerr told Indiana Coach DiNardo that he wanted to leave and DiNardo wasn't happy about it. So the IU coaching staff didn't release Kerr from his commitment. When you are a true freshman, that means you are "bound" to the university until you are either released or until the first full year is over. The second semester ended May 9, so Kerr can go public now. Actually, Indiana gave him his official release a few weeks ago, anyway…
Why did Coach DiNardo punish him (in John's view)? "We just never got along. I don't know why. I'm not a complainer. I ran the extra laps along with teammates who were doing punishment drills. I played games with a broken leg. I never said a thing. I never complained all the way up to the day I told Coach DiNardo I was leaving."
John is still mystified by his treatment in Bloomington. "After each game, we got the official game stats. I added up my official tackles for the year and it was 134. They announced them as 114. I have no idea why. They even took fumble-recoveries away from me. It was silly."
So who is this John Kerr, anyway, and what about the long and winding road from Cleveland to Columbus? John was one of the Midwest's premier linebackers two years ago when he filled the middle for Cleveland's St. Ignatius High School. He was often compared to Centerville's AJ Hawk in that he was a smart, rock solid football player who was a tackling machine. But he had two "flaws". He was 6'1" and he came out in a year of unbelievable talent at his position. The Buckeyes took Hawk that year, along with Mike D'Andrea, Bobby Carpenter, Stan White and Mike Kudla. All had more impressive height stats but no one had more impressive tackling stats.
"I can play with any of them," John insists. "The greatest break for me turned out to be going to Indiana. If I had walked on at Ohio State, I would have been buried on the depth chart. At Indiana, I lead the team in tackles and was the highest rated freshman defensive player in the Big Ten. Now they know I can play!"
When you see John Kerr, he looks like he can back up anything he says. He is 230 pounds, bench presses 475 and squats 670. He is a weight room and conditioning freak.
"When folks hear that I am going to Ohio State, they assume I plan to be a back-up player. That's not me. I plan to start and I plan to start in the middle linebacker spot."
"Two great athletes", John continues. "I saw Anthony play on television and I saw Mike play in high school. All I'm asking for is the chance. If I'm given that, I will be OSU's starting linebacker."
Players on the Indiana team marveled at the precocious ability of John Kerr. ""Football fans talk that John stood out on a bad Indiana team," commented one. "But – hey – he played behind the worst defensive line in the league. He would have had 20 tackles a game if he played behind that Buckeye line. Every game, he was fending off two or three blockers before he could get to the ball carrier. And that he made any tackles-for-loss at all last year was a miracle."
John comes from a disciplined background and attributes his work ethic and deep-seated religious beliefs to his Dad. John is a superb student and has been extremely careful not to give off even a whiff of trouble to Bloomington observers. "I go to class, I work out. I go back to my room. Then every weekend, I drive five hours home to Cleveland on Friday and five hours back on Sunday. I want to make sure no one can say anything bad about me here."
The coaches at Ohio State are not saying anything about John at all – good or bad. There have been questions about John's scholarship situation so we checked with Heather Lyke, the compliance officer at OSU. She said it was plain. If a scholarship football player transfers from one Big Ten school to another, he has to sit out a year. At that point, he is never eligible to accept scholarship money from the school to which he transferred. The Big Ten rules are tougher than – and supersede – the NCAA rules. They are designed to discourage transfers within the league.
So the Buckeyes are in an enviable position. A very good proven linebacker is coming to the team who has three years of eligibility left. And he will be a non-scholarship player. Thus, he won't take up any money or any scholarship.
But according to John Kerr, he will be taking a position – middle linebacker for the Buckeyes: the team he always wanted to play for.
Hear more from John next week, as we will have an extended interview with him on the Bucknuts Radio Hour.
E-mail Mr. Bucknuts at firstname.lastname@example.org