HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —
Urban Meyer and Dean Hood are quick to credit their families and high school coaches for laying the foundation of making them the men they are today. Though their paths have differed, Meyer and Hood have achieved the kind of success few in their field reach.
After head coaching jobs at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer was named head football coach at Ohio State in January. Hood is in his fifth season at Eastern Kentucky, a Football Championship Subdivision school, in his first stint as a head coach.
Despite taking different paths, Meyer and Hood both got their start along the road in the same place, Ashtabula. Both graduated in 1982, Hood from Harbor and Meyer from St. John, and both wanted to pay tribute to their roots.
That tribute was delivered Thursday in the form of the first Urban Meyer-Dean Hood youth football camp at Spire.
“Dean and I started talking about (a camp) years ago,” Meyer said. “Now that I’m back in Ohio and Dean is very close (to the state) it was time. We’ve been fortunate enough to be around a lot of high school coaches. We were blessed. We want the word out that the No. 1 reason we came back is to let people know how great it was growing up here.
“The kids listen to you when they look up to you. We thought we could use this as a chance to teach self-discipline, self-respect and a purpose-driven life.”
In order to teach those values, Meyer and Hood enlisted more than 20 high school football coaches from Ashtabula County.
“My two cents?” Meyer asked. “There are no better high school coaches than in the state of Ohio. That goes with a respect for the game and watching guys like Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. Those were people I watched and there are bits and pieces I took from them in everything I’ve done.”
“It’s that work ethic of the people in this area,” Hood said. “People like my dad, who went to work at O dark 30 every day and never batted an eye. It’s that work ethic. The whole area instills family values like working hard.
“There’s no doubt there’s a lot of pride in this area. At this camp we had (more than 20) coaches. In other places, you might get two or three. I am really humbled by the kids. I was thinking about if anybody would come. We didn’t know, so we capped it at 200 (campers) and we will worry about next, next year.”
More than 200 young athletes received instruction in football techniques as well as the importance of hard work, developing a good reputation and developing good habits from the coaches at nearly all of the county’s high school coaches.
“Sports Leader (who helped in putting on the camp) is an incredible organization that helps character to be developed in high school programs,” Hood said. “They want sports to be about what sports was supposed to be about way back in the beginning. If athletes build character through sports, then we should see character at the highest levels of sports. That’s not the case.
“Coaches build character. Sports Leader is about equipping the coaches to build that character.”
After two and a half hours of football instruction from the areas coaches, Meyer and Hood took turns delivering a message to the youngsters.
Meyer took time to talk to the youth campers about reputation and what it takes to develop a good one.
“You think you get attention by acting like a jerk in class?” Meyer asked the junior high players. “It’s the same thing in football. I have coached players with great ability but they don’t want to be great players. You’re in seventh and eighth grade now, that’s middle school. That’s perfect. Your junior high coach is watching everything you do.
“He is developing an opinion of you. That opinion is your reputation. That reputation will follow you around through fifth, sixth and seventh grade. Some kids say they don’t care what people think about them. I want to grab those kids and ask what they are thinking.
“When I said go back and get noticed (by your coaches), I didn’t say go back and paint your hair purple and start acting crazy,” Meyer continued. “You develop a great reputation by working your rear end off. If I tell you to go 10 yards, go 12. If I tell you to do three sets of six, do three sets of eight. I want my team to be the hardest-playing team in the nation. That’s going to be our reputation. I promise you that if you get a strong reputation, you will have a great career in academics. “
Meyer also made a point of telling the campers he was going to be watching them.
“This is my hometown and it’s my first camp,” he said. “I am going to start following your careers and try and figure out if you’ve learned something. The most important thing to work on is getting a great reputation.”
The leader of the Buckeyes even went so far as to let the campers know some of the bad habits he’d picked up on during the brief time the players were on the field.
“I saw some of you walk over to the water then back out here,” he said. “I noticed you. I was being good today. There were others who jogged over and back who had bright eyes and a smile. I noticed you. I like that. I want to be around guys like you.”
Though Hood followed Meyer with the middle schoolers, he expounded about what Meyer was teaching.
“I am going to start with a story,” he said. “An old Indian chief is trying to teach his grandson. He says there are two great wolves inside everyone. One is kind, peaceful and good with self control. The second has anger. He lies, cheats and steals.
“The chief says that every day the two wolves are in a battle. His grandson asks him which one wins. The chief replies, ‘The one you feed.’
“If you feed the good wolf, you become self-controlled. If you feed the bad wolf with anger, he gets bigger and you become an angry individual.”
Hood then talked about how the young players can feed the good wolf.
“Thoughts lead to actions,” he said. “If you do something over and over and over again, it becomes a habit. My habits end up being my character. My character eventually ends up my destiny.”
Meyer and Hood definitely delivered their message to the campers, who sat by and attempted to soak in everything they were being fed.
“I learned charity, to give your life to other people,” 9-year-old Simon Taraska said. “I want him to see what he taught us (in the years to come).”
“I’m going to try and do everything right,” 12-year-old Giovanni Mead said. “I am going to go two steps farther.”
“I know he’s a big-time coach,” 10-year-old Michael Cooper said. “I don’t want to disappoint him.”
In closing with the campers, Meyer had one last bit of advice.
“If what you want in the future is not what you’ve got, what have you got to do?” Meyer queried his young audience.
One young man, shy and afraid he had the wrong answer for the idol, hit the nail on the head.
“What did you say, young man?” Meyer asked the boy.
After repeating himself, the boy waited for Meyer’s approval.
“Change it,” Meyer repeated back to the crowd. “Good job, man. Here’s what he said… ‘Change it!’
“At your age, I wanted to play pro baseball. That’s all I ever thought about. If what you want in the future is different than what you’ve got, change it!
“Everyone’s got a dream. If you don’t have one, get one. Do everything you’ve got to do to push yourself in that direction. Go live your dream.”
The campers got that message loud and clear.
“(This camp means a lot) because it tells me I could be someone some day,” 13-year-old Isaac Orahood said. “I could be a star.”
Hood and Meyer grew up with coaches as role models who helped lay a foundation that one day led them to their dreams, even if they changed along the way. They made a point of coming home in order to pass the torch to another generation through the area’s high school football coaches.
The circle will start again.
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.