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Born to Be A Buckeye
William Nack
November 25, 1996
Andy Katzenmoyer of Ohio State, a mere freshman, is the linchpin of a ferocious defense
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November 25, 1996

Born To Be A Buckeye

Andy Katzenmoyer of Ohio State, a mere freshman, is the linchpin of a ferocious defense

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By Katzenmoyer's senior year, when he was bench-pressing almost 400 pounds and squatting 550, he was being ballyhooed as the hottest defensive prospect in the land. In Columbus they were calling him another Tom Cousineau, another Chris Spielman or Steve Tovar. He found Penn State appealing on his visits there, particularly Coach Paterno—"A fatherly figure," Katzenmoyer says. He liked it so much that Warren and Dianne traveled there too, to see the place and meet Paterno and the staff. In the end, though, with all that Buckeyes tradition in the family and with home games 20 minutes from Westerville, there was only one place for him to hang his helmet.

When Dianne called Penn State's Jay Paterno, Joe's son, who had helped recruit her son, she broke down as she delivered the news. "Can you imagine being engaged to two beautiful women at the same time?" she asks. "We debated the decision every night at the dinner table for a year and a half, but in the end Andy couldn't marry them both."

Warren shrugs. "Joe was sleddin' uphill," he says.

So was Andy, after dogging it through classes for two years. On the eve of his senior season, Pentello warned him that the ice was growing perilously thin. "Keep going the way you are, and you're not going to play college football," he said. Crunching the numbers, Pentello told him that he needed at least straight B's his entire senior year. In the spring Andy needed to score at least 80% on his English final. He barely squeezed through the seam, getting by with the minimum. They were dancing with the practice dummies at the Woody Hayes Center on that day.

His first appearance on the practice field in August was more memorable than propitious. "The first time I saw him," recalls senior free safety Rob Kelly, "he was trying to run two miles, and he was running along and puking all over himself." Luke Fickell, a senior noseguard, remembers looking over, chuckling and saying, "Welcome to the big leagues, kid."

Katzenmoyer had made himself a target of public wrath when he showed up wearing jersey number 45, the unofficially retired number worn by Archie Griffin, the game's only two-time Heisman Trophy winner (1974 and '75). The former Buckeyes running back is an icon in Ohio, but Katzenmoyer wanted the number because he'd worn it since the seventh grade. Griffin didn't care: "If it motivates him, let him wear it."

But callers scolded Katzenmoyer on talk radio shows, and one TV station used its 800 line to poll viewers on the matter. At one point an exasperated Cooper got tired of the wailing and told Andy, "If I were you, I wouldn't wear the damn thing!" Never flinching, the kid kept pulling it over his pads.

Cooper knew after one week in camp that he probably had the starting middle linebacker he'd been looking for. While his physical gifts were manifest, Cooper says, "we didn't know what kind of instinct he had. Then you'd look up, and hey, the ball's over there or there, and Andy is too. You can't teach instinct."

Cooper mulled over his choices for a while. "It was a calculated risk to start a true freshman," he says. "I finally said, 'The heck with it. He's the best we got. Start him!' "

Veteran players were skeptical, wondering how a boy just out of high school could learn the complex schemes and reads he would have to know at the flick of a snap. "Deep down I was concerned," Fickell says. "The first couple of games, I thought, What's this kid going to do when it comes down to a big play? Will he remember to pick up the back coming up the middle on a wheel route?"

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