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Adversity manifests itself in different ways. For example, if you awake in the morning face down on the pavement, that's a hint it's probably not going to be a real good day for you. Ohio State Quarterback Art Schlichter got a similar signal last fall when, as an 18-year-old freshman playing in his first college game, he threw five interceptions and ended up face down a whole lot while the Buckeyes took an ignominious 19-0 thrashing from Penn State. Of his 26 passing attempts, he completed 12 to guys wearing shirts that matched his. "I'd have had a heckuva percentage if they had just counted all the balls I threw that were caught by someone," he says. On that same long afternoon, he rushed for minus 15 yards.
Reflecting the other day on the bad times, Schlichter said, "The important thing to understand is that you always have to go through adversity to get to the good." Last Saturday on a gloriously sun-kissed November day in Ann Arbor, Schlichter (pronounced Schlee-ster) completed the climb from the Valley of Despair to the summit of Mount Ecstasy.
Before the largest crowd ever to see a regular-season college game—106,255—Schlichter hit on 12 of 22 passes for 196 yards to lead the Buckeyes to a thrilling 18-15 triumph over Michigan. It was Ohio State's first win over the Wolverines since 1975; it was also the first time since then that the Bucks have even scored a touchdown on their Most Hated Rival. Thus, surprising Ohio State completed the regular season undefeated and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl, where its opponent probably will be Southern California (9-0-1). Michigan, inheriting Ohio State's role of late, will be on the bowl season undercard, having accepted an offer to meet North Carolina (6-3-1) in the Gator Bowl.
In the process of spearheading Ohio State's resurgence, Schlichter has made a case for himself as the nation's preeminent quarterback and the winter-book favorite for the 1980 Heisman. And he still has two more years to play for Ohio State. But is Art Schlichter a great quarterback?
Art considers the question, then says softly, "He wishes he could be."
Wish no more, Arthur. For as Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler conceded in the gloom of defeat, "Schlichter makes the difference."
Not that Bo is surprised. After all, it was only two years ago that Art and his parents were guests of Schembechler at this same game when Michigan was putting on a recruiting rush to get the young man from Miami Trace High School in Bloomingburg, Ohio to matriculate at Ann Arbor. But, as Schlichter says, "You can't underestimate the thrill of playing at Ohio State University for Ohio kids."
Nor can Ohio State underestimate the thrill of having Schlichter play for it. Fred Zechman, Schlichter's high school coach, now in his first year as a Buckeye assistant in charge of quarterbacks and receivers, says, "He's a passer who can run and a runner who can pass." He's also smart and durable, and getting smarter every day. Zechman recalls a time in high school when Schlichter checked off a play called by the coach, then threw an interception. Zechman summoned his protégé off the field and bellowed, "If I get fired, it's going to be because of one of my dumb calls, not one of yours. Now get out there and call my plays." But there is a chemistry between the two. Indeed, in high school and college games in which Zechman has coached and Schlichter has quarterbacked, their record is 39-0-1.
Art's father Max, who farms 1,000 acres—corn, soybeans, wheat—near Washington Court House, says of his son, "When he was four years old, I knew he was different. With a basketball, most little kids slap at it. He dribbled it." Art's fanaticism for games involving various kinds of balls meant the family home was decorated in Early Broken, Late Bent and Smudged Provincial. His mother, Mila, once tried to raise African violets but gave up when none proved strong enough to withstand Arthur and his games. "If he's still, he's ill," says Mila.
By sixth grade, Schlichter says, he sensed he might have some athletic ability. How so? "I scored all the points." And by seventh grade he could look at three receivers at once, an ability usually not acquired until college, if then. A recruiter marveled at his talents but wondered how Schlichter was to get along with. Said Miami Trace Athletic Director Dick Hill, "No problem. We haven't told him yet how good he is."