Never Forget 31-0
Props for the dedicated fans...More than 50 Ohio State football fans attend Gridiron practice in Orlando
By THERESA CAMPBELL, DAILY SUN
ORLANDO - "Way to go!" Villager Barbara Williams yelled loudly and enthusiastically while watching the North team practice for The Villages Gridiron Classic.
"That was a great play. We want to see that Saturday!" chimed in another Villager.
For every great tackle, kick, pass and reception, the North squad was treated to cheers and applause Wednesday from 54 Tri County Ohio State University Alumni Association members living in The Villages and Leesburg. Decked out in their alma mater's colors of scarlet and gray, the fans traveled by busload and carloads to Orlando to watch the North squad work out at the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Several snapped pictures of the all-stars with their digital cameras. Some watched their players through binoculars.
"Go Buckeyes!" they yelled in praise of their favorite four players, OSU running backs Maurice Hall, Lydell Ross, Branden Joe and defensive back Kyle Andrews, who are playing in the 2005 edition of the Gridiron Classic.
The fans also cheered for Jim Tressel, the popular and successful head coach at Ohio State, who is coaching the North squad, and they were thrilled to see Paul Warfield, an OSU alumnus and football player who went on to play for the Cleveland Browns. Warfield is now a professional scout, one of the several NFL scouts who were watching the collegiate players as they practiced for the Gridiron Classic. <TABLE cellSpacing=2 cellPadding=2 width=200 align=right border=0><TBODY><TR><TD align=right><!-- AdSys ad not found for villages:middle --></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>
<TABLE cellSpacing=0 cellPadding=0 align=left border=0><TBODY><TR><TD class=photo-left></TD></TR><TR><TD class=photo-left width=300></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE>He said the game resembles a job interview.
"We're all looking for talented players who have the ability to come and play with the National Football League," Warfield said. "More than just that, we interview these young men to learn a little bit more about their backgrounds and character. We look for the same things that most human resources people look for, too."
Warfield signed autographs for his fellow Buckeyes.
"These are some of the greatest fans," he said.
Audrey Stephenson of The Plantation was all smiles after Warfield signed a gray football helmet for her with the words: "Go Bucks!" Saturday's game will be her first time to experience The Villages Gridiron Classic.
"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "This is just awesome."
Eugene Nupp, an eight-year Villages resident, came to Wednesday's practice on a mission. He carried a framed black-and-white group picture of himself standing next to the late Lee Tressel, father of the North team's coach for the Gridiron Classic. The photo was taken when Nupp and the elder Tressel were in the Navy attending officers school at Baldwin Wallace College, the school where Lee Tressel coached football, and his son, Jim, was the quarterback.
"This was taken in 1943," Nupp said while showing the photograph to those around him. "If Jim doesn't have it, I'd like to give it to him. It's historic trivia."
The OSU fans broke out in cheers and applause once more from the stands. Nupp wondered what he had just missed.
"That was a nice pass and one-hand reception," said another Buckeye.
"Go Buckeyes!" Barbara Williams yelled, clearly showing she doesn't need a megaphone.
"I just love football and tailgating," she said, adding she will be among the hundreds of OSU fans tailgating before Saturday's big game. "This makes me feel like a teenager again!"
"I enjoy her screaming," Villager Alvera Billock said, grinning, as Williams cheered several seats behind her. Villager Dorla Sorrell had her eyes focused on the players on the field.
"They're making some great plays. I'm looking forward to seeing the North win. I'm cheering for the North and for the players from Ohio State," she said, adding she'll be checking the papers to see if any of the OSU players are drafted in the NFL. "I'm glad that Paul Warfield is watching; he is a pro scout. I even got his autograph for my grandson."
Players meet the fans
The 54 OSU fans cheered even louder when Coach Tressel and the four OSU players walked toward them after practice. This was the moment the fans had been awaiting all afternoon.
"This is Buckeye Debbie," Tressel said of Villager Debbie Testement, president of the tri-county alumni group, as he introduced her to the grinning OSU players.
"This has been a great experience out here; it's been nice coming down here and being in the warm weather for a while," Andrews said to the crowd. "And we really thank all you guys for coming out and watching; we appreciate everything you guys do for us."
Hall also praised the OSU fans for cheering in the stands.
"First, I want to thank you guys for coming out. It was great to see all of these Buckeye fans here at the practice. I heard you all were going to be here, but I didn't know that it would be this many!" Hall said.
"You just wait until Saturday: we've sold 1,200 tickets," Testement said of the Buckeyes who are planning to attend the Gridiron Classic. She also told the players to be prepared for a fun time today, when the North and South teams arrive at 12:30 p.m. for an autograph session at Spanish Springs Town Square.
"There will be a live band and we expect dancing from you all," Testement said. "So, you better get ready!"
Hall told the crowd they are savoring the warm Florida weather and are excited about Saturday's game.
"We're going to go out there and make you proud like we have the past four years," he said.
The fans applauded the running back's words.
Tressel threw out a trivia question to the Buckeye fans:
"Who is the leading kickoff return man in the history of Ohio State?" he asked.
"Mo Hall," yelled one fan, and the rest of the fans applauded and cheered for Hall once more.
Ross echoed words of praise to the Buckeyes.
"It was really great to come out here and see all of the scarlet and gray, and the cheering section out here. You made us feel good," Ross said. "It's been a great time here, and we're planning on having a good game, and we're going to do our best."
"Here is another trivia question," Coach Tressel said. "Who are the two leading rushers from the 2004 Alamo Bowl? It's Lydell (Ross) and (Branden) Joe!"
The Buckeyes broke out in applause again, and cheered again when introduced to Joe.
"I'm really honored to see you guys come out here to watch us practice," Joe said. "It seems like the more and more that I travel across the country, it seems like I'm never leaving home, because I look up and see (OSU fans). I really do appreciate it. You make home away from home, and we thank you guys, and 'Go Bucks!' "
The OSU fans also threw out some trivia questions for the players:
"How many touchdowns did you score in high school?" one Buckeye asked Hall.
"Fifty one," Hall replied to applause and cheers.
"Who scored the winning touchdown to beat Michigan to win the Big Ten in the National Championship game? It was Mo Hall," the coach said to the cheering fans.
The football players broke into the Ohio State fight song and were joined by the Buckeye fans.
Tressel told the crowd that it was unusual for an entourage to come see the players during practice.
"All four of them told you that it meant something special that you were here for their practice," he said. "All of the guys on the practice field were coming up to our players saying, 'Man, it must be something to go to Ohio State. The fans even come to a practice.' And the players were proud that you were here and appreciative, and I feel the same way."
Tressel said he was eager for today's autograph session at Spanish Springs Town Square and Saturday's game.
"What everyone has talked to us about is, and telling the players about is, 'You will never have played, or will play in an environment like The Villages, with the polo field and 4,000 golf carts pulling up,' " Tressel said as the Villagers around him giggled. "This will be a good wholesome atmosphere and it will be fun. It doesn't matter who wins, which is unusual for a coach to say, (and this is a game) where my hair won't get grayer."
As the OSU fans' chat with the coach wound down, Nupp showed the coach the black-and-white group photograph of him standing next to Tressel's father.
"If you don't have this picture, you can have it. But you've got to sign my hat," Nupp said.
"Well, you've got to sign this picture," Tressel replied.
The coach also autographed shirts and hats for the other Buckeyes and shared his excitement about being in The Villages today and Saturday.
"We can't wait to get over there and see your little slice of paradise," Tressel said, smiling.
The Buckeyes around him cheered once more.