Dan Potokar was a living reminder of why the spring kick-off is now in its 18th year.
The former Ohio State walk-on wide receiver was one of a number of Buckeyes to speak to the crowd at head coach Jim Tressel’s annual spring preview. Although the event was started by then-coach John Cooper in 1991 to benefit Alzheimer’s research, it now also goes to benefit the Tressel Family Fund for Cancer Prevention Research.
As one of the five representatives for the offense, Potokar stood on the indoor practice field at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and offered an update on his situation.
For more than one month now, Potokar has been cancer-free.
“I’m doing well,” he said, receiving an ovation from the crowd. “I just want to thank the Buckeye Nation. I received an overwhelming amount of support this past year and a half. It’s been overwhelming.”
Potokar was diagnosed with testicular cancer in December 2007. He has now returned to the team as an assistant coach, helping wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell oversee his position and also helping coach special teams.
His news created a buzz that was on an equal par with that of having two Super Bowl champions in the room. Former OSU wide receiver Santonio Holmes and halfback Dick LeBeau were featured guests at the event, both members of the Pittsburgh Steelers team that won the 2009 Super Bowl.
Speaking after his game-clinching touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone was shown five times to the crowd and received a standing ovation, the Super Bowl MVP said he is never far from his time spent as a Buckeye.
“Anywhere I go, and any place I’ve been, I’m always reminded of something from Ohio State,” he said, “whether I see somebody with a shirt on or someone with the colors on. I’m always thinking about Ohio State.”
He was followed to the podium by LeBeau, who served as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator and was a member of OSU’s 1957 national championship team. Now at 71 years of age, LeBeau said he learned one thing from his nine jobs in the NFL that have kept him in the league for 50 years.
“If I would’ve got out of the race at 65, I would’ve missed two world championships (and) a defense that was really beyond my comprehension,” he said. “All I’m saying to you is this: retire if that’s in your game plan. Don’t get out of the game. Stay in the game of life. Life is for living.”
The program deviated from that of past years in a few ways. There was no past team honored at the event, which used to solely benefit Alzheimer’s research. In addition, a handful of players represented the offensive, defensive and special teams units instead of having players from each position speak along with their position coaches.
Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson gave the audience a run-down of the defense, while assistant quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano introduced the offense.
Often a target of Tressel’s at the event each spring, Johnson mistakenly introduced defensive coordinator Jim Heacock as his brother John before correcting his mistake. In addition, offensive lineman Bryant Browning spoke alone at the podium and received a good-natured jab from the coach.
“I’ve never seen (Browning) sweat like that,” Tressel said as Johnson exited early to head to class. “You could see the little beads of sweat on his head.”
The two sides of the ball also engaged in a little back-and-forth. First, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said he feels like the defense is dominating the offense during spring practice. Then, with the jersey scrimmage scheduled for April 18, offensive lineman Jim Cordle promised a victory for the offense.
In addition, those in attendance were treated to both silent and live auctions, with all proceeds going to the two charities.
“It’s a day of gratitude for us, for sure,” Tressel said. “It reminds us that it’s awfully special to be a part of this program. We’re just tremendously appreciative of all the people who have made a difference in our lives and in Ohio State.
“We’re going to put more (championship) banners up, but we’re also going to find a cure.”