Former players share Michigan stories during Buckeye Bash in Mansfield

Marcus Hall caused a stir and laughter this week when he revealed he was heavily recruited by the Ohio and Michigan head coaches.

He was a senior at Glenville High School in Cleveland when the pressure was literally at home, telling nearly 200 attendees about the Buckeye Bash for Richland County Alumni.

Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez surprised him at school one day, hoping to land a commitment from the nationally-ranked offensive tackle before signing day.

Then the 6-foot-5, 300-pound student got some startling news.

“Jim Tressel was at my house,” Hall said.

After a quick tour of the school, Rodriguez told the recruit he wanted to meet his mother. Hall immediately felt sick with worry. Reluctantly he agreed.

Hall told the audience that as he led the cheerful Rich Rod into his apartment building, he kept praying that the Buckeye trainer would be gone by now.

“We open the door and sure enough, there was Jim Tressel,” Hall said, and the audience erupted. “They just stared at each other and didn’t blink.”

Fortunately, the encounter had no impact on his career. He played for Ohio State from 2009 to 2013.

Buckeye Bash raises more than $5,000 annually

It was one of dozens of stories the audience heard during the fundraiser from Hall, as well as former teammate lineman Bryant Browning and corner Chimdi Chekwa.

The Mansfield Liederkranz event raises at least $5,000 each year that can be used toward future scholarships, said Judy Villard-Overocker, chair of the Bash’s alumni club.

Attendees ate dinner, mingled with other fans and bid on items sold in both silent and live auctions.

“And we want to get in the mood for the game on Saturday,” said Villard-Overocker, with both teams going into the Columbus match unbeaten.

Stories from the former players gave them a little extra insight into the upcoming fight.

Game of the Century Recap

The former players believe this year’s Saturday lunchtime matchup in Columbus will be one of the best ever. Ohio state ranks second in the country and Michigan third.

It reminds them of “The Game of the Century” when on November 18, 2006, the then No. 1 in Ohio and then No. 2 in Michigan were guests. Like this year, both teams were 11:0. Ohio State won, 42-39.

Neither of them played in that game, but Browning and Chekwa were both dressed as redshirt rookies on the sidelines.

“I had the best seat in the house,” Chekwa said. “I was right on the sidelines.”

They’d both learned over the course of the season how much more intense college games were than high school, but never before had they experienced so much energy in a stadium as during The Game.

“The fans rushed onto the field,” Browning said. “It was definitely an incredible moment.”

It was the last game played at The Shoe before artificial turf was due to be installed. Apparently the fans knew.

“I’ve seen people leave the field with grass squares,” Chekwa said.

Like Ohio State last time when the stakes were this high, the former players are predicting the Buckeyes will win on Saturday.

All three said they hope Ohio State puts the ball on the ball badly against Michigan. They believe the game will be won “in the trenches”.

They predicted blowout wins for OSU respectively: Hall 28-14, Browning 42-14 and Chekwa 38-17.

Fond memories of playing for Coach J

The trio were introduced to the Buckeye Bash audience by one of their former coaches at Ohio State, Stan Jefferson, who is now Superintendent of Mansfield City Schools.

“They’re all great guys,” Jefferson said of them.

He said he is proud of each of them because throughout their post-football lives they have strived to serve others with every possible opportunity.

He was also happy that they had so many combined wins against That Team Up North.

“It’s the game,” Jefferson said. “There’s no other college game in America like the one played on Saturday.”

Jefferson was a member of the Ohio State coaching staff for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017.

The players fondly recalled moments with Coach J.

Hall said there was one game in particular where he stood in the tunnel afterwards, too angry to think. Coach J walked up to him and after a few moments everything seemed fine again.

“I don’t know how you calmed me down,” Hall said to Jefferson.

The Ohio State coaching staff changes players for the rest of their lives, Chekwa told the audience.

“Coach J was part of that,” he said.

Chekwa grew up in Florida and moved to Columbus before his freshman year.

“I had never seen snow in my life,” Chekwa said. “I’ve learned that this big, baggy coat I brought from Florida doesn’t work in real weather.”

The coaches gave him a jacket. It was a season he will never forget.

‘The Game’ is ‘definitely a big deal’

The three former players all said they have often been asked throughout their lives to compare the two schools. They all decided that Michigan really couldn’t be compared to the state of Ohio.

Playing The Big House in Ann Arbor removed any doubt that it was anything like playing The Shoe.

“Their fans have never been as loud as ours,” Hall said. “We’re better than them. You hear that, but we really are better than them.”

In fact, the Wolverines don’t offer even the most demanding street environment. The trio said Penn State made it harder than any other school.

Oddly enough, Browning said, one of the toughest away games he could remember was in Seattle in 2007 against the Washington Huskies.

“They built their stadium out of aluminum or something,” Browning said. “It just rattled through your helmet and you couldn’t hear anything.”

However, the players would never forget Saturday’s game.

Browning said it will be the last home game for many seniors. And after last year’s devastating loss to the Wolverines, everyone on the team will play a little harder.

He recalls a year when Archie Griffin spoke to the team during Beat Michigan Week. He spoke about the history of the rivalry and taught the players what The Game meant for the entire state.

Griffin made it clear to Browning that there are three phases each year: all regular-season games that come before Michigan, The Game itself, and then each postseason game that comes after Michigan.

“It’s important,” Browning said. “It’s definitely a big deal.”

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