Former Ohio State offensive lineman Orlando Pace has been chosen for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Here are some of the high points in his OSU career from the pages of BSB.
March 12, 1994: Just weeks after signing with Ohio State, Pace told BSB that while he looked at other schools, the All-American as named by USA Today, Parade magazine, BlueChip Illustrated, SuperPrep and Tom Lemming’s Prep Football Report was a solid pledge to OSU all along.
“I liked at Ohio State at first, but I wanted to see if I was choosing Ohio State just because it was my first visit,” he said. “One reason I chose Ohio State is because of the availability to play early, and I liked the great recruiting class. As the recruiting season wore on, the class got better and better. That sort of sewed things up.”
Pace – who was listed as a massive 6-8, 305 pounds at the time – told OSU he was coming in December but did not make his choice public until National Signing Day in February. He picked the Buckeyes over Michigan and Miami (Fla.).
“I liked the players at Ohio State and the coaches made me feel comfortable,” he said. “I talked to some of the players and they told me the coaches are fair to you. I also liked Ohio State because it’s a nice setting and atmosphere and I’ll have a good opportunity to play. There were just a lot of reasons for ending up there.”
There was already talk Pace could follow in the footsteps of Korey Stringer and play as a freshman at OSU, as his head coach at Sandusky (Ohio) High School, Larry Cook, called him the best offensive and defensive lineman he had ever coached.
“He has a world of potential and he uses it, and there’s more to come,” Cook said. “He’s only 18 years old.”
Sept. 10, 1994: After Pace started the Buckeyes’ season-opening against Fresno State in the Pigskin Classic, the newly installed left tackle was believed to be the first true freshman starter on the offensive line for a season opener in OSU history.
“We’ve researched it about as well as we can,” OSU sports information director Steve Snapp said at the time, “and we can’t find any other freshmen who have started the first game of the season on the offensive line.”
Stringer (six games in 1992) and Joe Lukens (11 games in 1979) had started during their freshman campaigns, but Pace – who opened huge holes in the 34-10 win over the Bulldogs – was the first to be at his post for the season opener.
“I was a little nervous to start off, but I settled down pretty quick,” Pace said. “One of their guys came after me pretty good on the first series, so I knew I was in the big leagues. I settled down and thought I played pretty good after that.”
Pace would go on to be named the Big Ten’s top freshman that season.
August 1995: The headline read “This Orlando May Help OSU Find Pasadena,” meaning there was no shortage of hype for Pace going into his sophomore season. He was already being talked about as one of the best linemen in the sport and a potential legend, but Pace shrugged off the kudos.
“I try not to read a lot of the magazines,” he said. “People have told me some things, but I don’t pay that much attention. I have to go out and play hard regardless of what people think of me.”
Pace was impressive to just about everyone, including teammate Jamie Sumner.
“I can say the sky’s the limit for Orlando,” Sumner said. “It’s unbelievable that someone that age could come in here and dominate like he did. … You’re going to hear great things from him for a long time.”
While conditioning and strength were two concerns coming out of high school for Pace, those appeared to have melted away when he reported for his sophomore season at a lean 320 pounds.
“I worked a lot harder in the weight room in the offseason,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I didn’t work in the weight room that much. I got a lot stronger, I got a lot quicker, and everything’s going just great.”
December 2005: The cover of BSB was all about Eddie George’s Heisman Trophy win, but page 5 contained some other history – the fact that Pace had been tabbed as the first sophomore ever to win the Lombardi Award as the best linemen in college football.
Pace earned the honor over seniors Johnathan Ogden of UCLA, Tedy Bruschi of Arizona and Simeon Rice of Illinois.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here as a sophomore because not too many sophomore offensive linemen get the chance to come here.”
Pace was also named a first-team All-Big Ten choice that season and a consensus first-team All-American. He was a finalist for the Outland Trophy, given to the best interior lineman in the sport, which went to Ogden.
Nov. 9, 1996 As Pace’s Heisman campaign in his junior season heated up – helped, no doubt, by the famous Pace pancake magnets sent across the country – he had the first-place vote of at least one Heisman voter.
Of course, it helped that the previous winner, George, was a former teammate of the Buckeye left tackle.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Orlando Pace is the best player in the country,” said George, then an NFL rookie.
Pace also had the vote of Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, who spoke about his plan to vote for him on ESPN’s “Sports Reporters” show.
Those were among the plaudits being given to Pace, who was on his way to helping the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl berth, but the man himself was just happy to bring some attention to his position.
“It’s a great feeling to be mentioned in the Heisman race as one of the top players in the nation,” he said. “It’s good to see an offensive lineman do something like that.”
Pace was in the thick of the race with Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel, Arizona State QB Jake Plummer and Texas Tech tailback Byron Hanspard and had the backing of head coach John Cooper.
“I’ve never seen a college lineman do the things Orlando does,” Cooper said. “I don’t know of a better football player in the country than the Big Dog.”
There was some talk of boosting Pace’s candidacy by giving him the ball a few times, especially on a goal line play, but there was no guarantee that would happen. In the meantime, Pace was simply hoping to continue his dominant stretch of play from the opening whistle of every game.
“In the first couple of plays you can take a lot of the heart out of the defenders,” Pace said. “They really don’t want to rush that hard the rest of the game. The first couple of plays are big.”
As for the pancake magnets, Ohio State sent 500 of them across the country to voters.
“We’re getting good response,” Snapp said. “I’ve been told by a lot of writers that they think he’s the best player in the country and they’re going to vote for him.”
Jan. 11, 1997: Pace came up shy in the Heisman voting – he took fourth, while Wuerffel won it – but he did help the Buckeyes to a Rose Bowl win over Arizona State while stonewalling ASU sack master Derrick Rodgers.
And with mantle full of awards – Pace repeated as All-America and All-Big Ten, became the first person to win two Lombardi Awards, added the Outland Trophy and was chosen as Big Ten MVP and recipient of the Silver Football by the Chicago Tribune – the big man decided it was time to move on to the NFL.
“It was a tough decision leaving you guys, the fans of Columbus,” he said. “I set goals I wanted to meet on the playing field, and I did everything I wanted to do here in college. I think it’s about time for me to move on to that next level.”
The decision came after he had told writers at the Heisman ceremony that he would be returning, but no one could blame Pace – who said the Rose Bowl was the perfect cap to his career – after he had won just about every other award and honor he could.
“There’s nothing left for him to do in college,” quarterback Stanley Jackson said. “He’s pancaked enough guys, he’s run down enough DBs and pushed them into the end zone. He needs to just go ahead and take that step, make his money and make his parents proud.”
At the time, he was being projected as the potential No. 1 pick in the draft.
April 26, 1997 That proved to be true when the St. Louis Rams chose Pace with the first overall pick in the April 19 NFL selection show.
“I think one thing that you guys may or may not realize is that my whole career has been full of firsts – first offensive lineman in a long while to be drafted first, the first two-time Lombardi Award winner, the first one to win it as a sophomore,” he said. “This isn’t too surprising to you guys, I hope. Hopefully I’ll continue to do firsts and do well in the NFL.”
He became the third Buckeye to go No. 1 overall, joining Tom Cousineau in 1979 and “Big Daddy” Dan Wilkinson two years earlier.
Pace went to the Rams after head coach and general manager Dick Vermeil, a former ABC commentator who spent plenty of time with Pace in that role, engineered a trade that gave his team the pick.
“St. Louis is a good fit for me,” Pace said. “From what I understand, they have a good offensive line coach there that can help me and groom me through the first couple of years. Knowing the coach well, having that type of understanding is always a plus.”
Pace would go on to spent 12 season with the Rams, earning seven Pro Bowl bids, five All-Pro honors and a Super Bowl ring in 1999.