Mike Tomczak, Ohio State's junior quarterback, looks like the prototypical all-American boy: brown eyes, apple cheeks, short hair. At Thornton Fractional North High in Chicago, he played football for his father, Ron; captained the football, basketball and track teams; and was junior and senior class president. Gosh, it seems only natural that he would have been the homecoming and prom kings, too. "Are you kidding?" says Tomczak, the key to the Buckeyes' success in '83. "With this face?"
O.K., let's talk about that face. Everybody else has. "I hate how young I look," says Tomczak, who has a million comebacks to remarks about his baby puss. "Listen, I'll let you in on a secret. Ohio State let me in when I was 13. I'm actually only 15 right now."
But last spring Tomczak's face turned serious after he'd decided to try modeling—"I look good in European jeans," he says—and appeared in a full-page ad for the Lazarus department store that ran in the June issue of Columbus Monthly. Tomczak didn't receive any money for the job—he had Lazarus donate his $40 fee to the Leukemia Society of America—and neither his nor Ohio State's name appeared on the ad, which carried only the word "winners." But the face was a dead giveaway, and the school, in accordance with an NCAA rule that forbids athletes from appearing in advertisements, whether they receive money or not, declared Tomczak ineligible. Ohio State asked the NCAA Eligibility Committee to review the case, and on June 28, Tomczak, who claimed he had been unaware of the rule, was reinstated.
A lot of Buckeye fans wished Tomczak had been ineligible early last year, when, unseasoned and insecure, he failed to take control of the offense. In his first four games he completed just 20 of 56 passes for one touchdown, threw eight interceptions and was 11th—no kidding—in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. Ohio State won its opening two games but then lost three straight for only the fifth time in this century. "The home fans cheered when I came out of the Florida State game [the second loss]," says Tomczak, who was yanked in the second quarter after connecting on but two of eight passes for 13 yards and throwing one interception. "I was crushed."
When he was benched for the Buckeyes' next game, against Wisconsin, Tomczak got on the phone to his father in Chicago. Ron spent hours talking to his son about his throwing motion and restoring his confidence. The confabs paid off. Over the season's final seven games, Tomczak mastered Ohio State's complex audible system and completed 76 of 131 passes for 1,309 yards and seven TDs, with only three interceptions. That performance catapulted him to No. 1 in the conference in passing efficiency. Ohio State won those seven games, the last two of which were a 24-14 defeat of Michigan and a 47-17 rout of Brigham Young in the Holiday Bowl. By season's end the Buckeyes may well have been as good as any team in the country.
If Tomczak continues to improve, the Buckeyes will have the most explosive offense in their history. Last spring Coach Earle Bruce toyed with the idea of a one-back alignment. Think of it, an Ohio State attack with five potential receivers on the field at once: two tight ends, John Frank, who has a 3.85 GPA in biology, and Judd Groza, son of NFL Hall of Fame Kicker Lou; two flankers, Cedric Anderson, who averaged 27.6 yards per catch in 1982, and Thad Jeminson; and Fullback Vaughn Broadnax. When the Buckeyes are in the I, which they will be most of the time, one of two tailbacks, senior Kelvin Lindsay or 230-pound sophomore Keith Byars, will replace Groza. In addition to an abundance of talent at the skill positions, the Buckeyes have a massive offensive line that averages 6'6" and 268 pounds.
At 6'2" and 252 pounds, Broadnax is the driving force of the backfield. A former high school All-America heavyweight wrestler and a black belt in judo, he can bench-press 340 pounds and lift 665 in the half squat. During spring practice in 1982, Broadnax played middle guard to learn how to elude tacklers by putting himself in their shoes. Last year he was the Big Ten's best fullback, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scoring nine touchdowns.
On defense, the Buckeyes lost Inside Linebacker Marcus Marek, their alltime leading tackier, who has gone to the USFL Boston Breakers. Bruce, however, thinks converted Outside Linebacker Rowland Tatum—no relation to Jack, the former Buckeye All-America—"can be better than Marek." The secondary is deep and fast. "I thought last year's team was awesome once we got it together," says Broadnax. "Well, we ought to be even better this year because we've hung together, and we've matured."
You'd never know it by looking at Tomczak, though.