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Headline: Good To Great
(From Dec. 2005)
By Charles Babb
It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
Anthony Schlegel transferred to Ohio State three years ago. He left his
position as captain of the Air Force Academy football team in search of a school
with a better personal fit and a chance to win a national title. He thought he
had found it in Ohio State.
Even better, the Buckeyes were playing his home state team, Texas, in what
would be his senior season. The hype built for the game until it morphed into an
otherworldly contest between two titans, clashing in the college football sky to
determine the fate of who might soon try to challenge for the crown.
Sadly for the Buckeyes and Schlegel, the Longhorns vanquished the Buckeyes by
the slimmest of margins.
The missed opportunities gnaw at him.
“I stay up all night (after the game),” said Schlegel. “Of course we
sit back and think about what we could have done and what plays we could have
made to change the outcome. It frustrates you but also gets you more excited to
go out there to practice and to play. You are going to think about it for the
“The night after the game you are going to think about it and Sunday when
you watch the film. It stinks because I didn’t get to bed until 4 or 5 o’clock
in the morning. You’re thinking about plays and you see the film and – man,
so many (missed) opportunities. But it’s over now, so we take it, learn from
mistakes, and go out and prepare.”
Defensive players lamented a missed tackle here, a blown defensive assignment
there. The offense rued dropped passes, missed blocks, and the inability to
punch across the goal line for a game-sealing touchdown. Special teams units
spoke of missing the chance for a safety and a clinching field goal. Coaches
admitted they had failed to grade a winning performance even amongst themselves.
In other words, the game was over, but it still eats at them – especially
the seniors who know this is their last go-round.
“I feel we had so many opportunities to slam the door early in the game and
at the end of the game on both sides of the ball,” said Schlegel. “I think
we handed them the game at the end, but the biggest thing about that is they
were the number two team in the country, and where do we go from here? We just
keep getting better. If we can do that all of our goals are still in reach.”
Along came the Penn State loss and the dreams of a national title shriveled
on the vine. The defense had held the Nittany Lions to only 17 points, but the
Buckeye offense sputtered, choked, and stalled in a 17-10 defeat.
This would not be a national championship team. They wouldn’t play in the
Rose Bowl, and now they didn’t even control their own destiny in the Big Ten
title race. Was it simply too much to believe this team could roll through their
schedule for a dream date in Pasadena? Had the expectations been too high?
Not according to Schlegel.
“They’re not difficult because we have the same expectations,” he said.
“However, people can hang on a loss because they are not here. Fans who are
not here and do not see what goes on from day to day can really feel bad about a
loss because it is a big game. It’s not over.”
For him and the team, losses mean one thing and one thing only. They are a
chance to see where you are and move forward.
“It is the mentality that you want to get better,” Schlegel said. “Everyone
has that when you come off a game like that. We are trying to improve on our
mistakes and keep getting better. We want to go out there and just show people
the kind of team we have and just improve on the things we made mistakes on. I
think when you have that mentality you are going to keep getting better. That’s
when the leadership comes. You have to improve. You have to just keep going. It’s
easy to get a let down, but we have great seniors. We have great captains. I
think the mentality of the team is that we just want to get out there and play
again and show people what we can do and what we are capable of.”
In the typical fashion of head coach Jim Tressel and his senior leaders, the
Buckeyes didn’t implode but circled the wagons, banded together, and tried to
go out winners as a unit – or in their words, a family.
Schlegel thought for a moment before saying, “We always talk about being
the class of college football. I think Woody (Hayes) said that. There’s going
to be life after football, and if you don’t have character, you don’t have
class – you’re not going to get that far.”
How does a Texas boy know anything about W.W. Hayes – the benevolent
dictator who ruled the sidelines in Columbus before he was even conceived? He
reads it among the pages of the winners manuals compiled by Tressel and his
“I really like that book,” Schlegel gushed. “It has things you can
carry on with you in life. I save them because there are so many good things in
there. There is one where we talked about when Pat Tillman died there was
something on him about what he gave for his country. We have like work, team,
character, enthusiasm, love – all of these different things that tie in which
you have to have to be a complete person and to really be classy. I think guys
through there, read the book, and can apply those things. That’s Coach Tressel
being Coach Tressel. He wants to make guys that have character so when they
leave they are better than when they came.
“I think it affects the team because it is your mission statement. It’s,
‘Good to Great.’ Last year we started off good and then went downhill a
little bit. Then we started doing really good and had some good performances in
the Michigan game and bowl game. So, we all talk about being good to great and
doing the little things you need to do to get there. Those books really are the
model for the whole year. We’re just trying to live up to that.
“It’s changed me. It’s truly a family. Those books talk about it. They
are books you can apply not only to football but to your life as a person. It’s
great that he cares so much about us as a person developing our character that
he does that. He wants you to leave here a better person than when you came.”
Perhaps these books strike such a deep chord within Schlegel because he
readily admits by nature, “I’m a big family first – God and family (man).
This team here is my family. We are a brotherhood, and I would take care of
anybody here. I’m a happy-go-lucky guy. I’m friendly with everybody no
matter who they are. That’s just me. I don’t know how to describe myself.”
Linebackers coach Luke Fickell knows exactly how to describe Schlegel and his
contributions to the team.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Fickell said. “In our room, the linebacker
room, I think he’s really the glue that holds everything together. What a joy
he has been to coach. He is the true sense of a football player. He’s one of
the smartest football players you’ll see. He’s a guy with an unbelievable
work ethic. He is an example for every young guy that we have. You wish you
could keep him around. I wish we could keep him for a couple more (years).”
This is his last, but what will come next? Schlegel arrived in Columbus with
a second dream – aside from winning.
“Anthony’s situation was that one of his coaches was out recruiting, and
at the academies you have to make a decision after that second year as to are
you going to stay in the academy and fulfill your commitment post-graduate or
are you going to not do that, and Anthony had been very up front with his
coaching staff that he really wanted to be a high school football coach,”
Tressel said. “That’s what he wanted to do. He didn’t necessarily want to
fly. He didn’t necessarily want to serve in the Air Force.
“Really, deep down, what he wanted to do was coach high school football, so
he kind of put the word out and his coaches were calling around to various
places and giving recommendations saying, ‘Hey, this is not a guy that’s
having a problem, this is a guy that’s making a life decision and you ought to
look at him.’ ”
The Buckeyes took a look, did a double take, and offered him a scholarship.
The official visit turned out to be the second discovery of the Three Amigos
when he struck up an instant friendship with fellow linebackers A.J. Hawk and
“I would say he was the perfect fit for us,” mused Carpenter. “We are
all value hard work so we are always lifting after practice. We always watch
film together. We’re pretty laid back off the field. People picture
linebackers as intense all the time but when we hang out together we relax and
joke with each other. The biggest thing is we all take a joke. We might be some
of the biggest practical jokers around but people don’t see it. It’s not
something that’s talked about a whole lot. It’s pretty fun.”
Apparently they even have the chance to tease Schlegel (the only one of the
three married) about being an old married man.
“That’s more material for us to really throw at him,” said Carpenter
with a conspiratorial grin. “No, his wife is a wonderful lady, and she lets us
still hang out. He hangs out with us as much as he can, but that’s just more
opportunity for more jokes to tease him about his wife.”
In the meantime, No. 51 mans the middle with reckless abandon. Using his body
as a sacrificial lamb, he punishes opponents and teammates alike.
“I’m pretty sure he has killed off enough brain cells it doesn’t matter
to him anymore, but when he comes in there he will just rock you with his skull,”
recounted OSU center Nick Mangold with a near shudder. “It’s horrible. Every
day as soon as you hear, ‘We are going to do this,’ and I have Schlegel I
know here it comes. Here is the headache for the rest of the day. He really
comes in and hits it.”
Assuming he has enough gray matter left in his cranium to survive, where will
he go from here?
“I promised my wife’s parents I would get her back there (to Texas) some
time, but my mom is living here for this season,” Schlegel said. “My sister
moved here from Pittsburgh for job opportunities. I’m so proud to be a
Buckeye. I’m always going to be coming back here. I have a lot of friends that
live here – Bobby’s right down the road and A.J.’s down the road. It’s a
No matter where they live, however, he has a firm grip on who he wants to be
and who in fact he already is.
Commented Tressel, “He’s a special guy not just in football, but we’ve
got many stories here in the community, you know, where he’s made an impact on
young people and just -- he’s just a good one.”
Or maybe he’s “Good to Great”?