In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Sports writer Matt Markey talked recently with Gibsonburg native and former Ohio State All-American Ted Smith.
After a dominant high school career in which he was the scourge of the Sandusky Bay Conference as a physical linebacker and running back for Gibsonburg, Ted Smith was named all-Ohio and honored as a high school All-American. He was recruited to play for Woody Hayes at Ohio State, and after spending his first two years in Columbus as a linebacker, Smith was moved to offensive line for his junior season. He was chosen as a first-team All-American offensive guard as a senior in 1975.
The 55-year-old Smith recently retired after a 31-year career as a superintendent working in highway construction. He still makes his home in Gibsonburg.
"GOING TO OHIO STATE and playing for the Buckeyes was really quite an experience, especially for a guy coming from a small town. Looking back, there are a lot of great memories, but what stands out the most are the lifelong friendships you made while you were at Ohio State, and just the closeness of the players and the coaches. We were like a family in a lot of ways, and coach Hayes had a lot to do with creating that kind of atmosphere. He was a really unique human being.
"THEY PLAYED ME at linebacker my first two years at Ohio State, and then the coaches told me they wanted me to switch over and play on the offensive line. I didn't like the idea at all, at first. I liked defense and hitting people. But coach Hayes told me he thought I could play on the offensive line and that's where I would help the team the most. The first couple of days of practice were pretty miserable. Woody was on my butt pretty bad because I didn't really have much of an idea what I was doing over there. But it slowly got better, and I learned the position. Woody knew what he was doing.
"WOODY WAS a very honest and very generous guy, and he coached you hard, but he did look out for you in a lot of ways, on and off the field. Under that image was a very thoughtful man. At the time, we were just a bunch of young guys playing football for him - we didn't really know we were playing for an icon or a guy who would be one of the greatest legends in college football.
"MY OBJECTIVE all along was to play for Ohio State. A lot of other colleges were interested, and I visited other schools, but I knew where I wanted to go. Florida State, Nebraska, Miami, Bowling Green - I visited all of them. I canceled the visit to Michigan, though. Like I said, I knew where I wanted to play college football, and as soon as I visited Ohio State and they offered me a scholarship, that was it.
"I WAS A LINEBACKER and running back in high school, but I knew going in that I was not going to play in the backfield at Ohio State. The only time I got to play running back there was in my junior and senior years, and Woody knew I really wanted to, so he let me give Pete Johnson (fullback) a break in practice. Woody let me run as the fullback in practice, but it was just goofing around. He wanted me playing on the line, and it turns out he was right. I was pretty proud of the fact that I moved to offensive line as a junior, and then made All-American the next year as a senior.
"I PLAYED offensive line at 6-foot-1 and about 257 pounds. That was a decent size back then, but that would be small by today's standards. The athletes are so much bigger and faster today. The game has changed a lot, in a lot of ways, but it still comes down to blocking and tackling. We used to just line up, knock people down, and then hand the ball to Archie Griffin. I was fortunate to play with an outstanding player like Archie. He is the same now as he was way back then - very humble and very appreciative of the talents he was given. He never thought he was better than anyone else, even with two Heisman Trophies. And he still appreciates his offensive linemen.
"I FELT really honored to be named All-American as a senior. We had four guys from that team that made first team All-American, and that is a lot. Of course there was Archie; and Tim Fox, a safety; and our punter Tom Skladany, and myself. It was a great group of guys. We went to the Rose Bowl all four years I was there at Ohio State. Back then, before all this BCS and the national championship games, going to the Rose Bowl was very, very important. As a Buckeye, you wanted your season to end in Pasadena on January 1st.
"THAT WAS a pretty special time for football around here in northwest Ohio. The reception I got at home was always overwhelming. Playing at Ohio State - that was the really big time, and you just didn't see guys from small towns doing that too often. If you think about it, in a couple years' span there we had three first-team All-Americans from around here that all lived within about 10 miles of each other. There was myself, and Bob Brudzinski from Fremont who played for the Buckeyes the same time I was there, and then Rob Lytle from Fremont up at Michigan who was an All-American a year later. That is unusual to have three guys who lived that close together to all end up as All-Americans.
"SINCE I RETIRED this year I made it to a few more Ohio State games than usual. I saw all the home games this season, and the Toledo, Penn State, and Michigan games. It is still fun to go watch the Buckeyes play, but I don't talk with the players or the coaches much, because they've got a million things they're trying to do. We also had a 35-year reunion this season, and the whole offensive line I played with was there. We're all getting old, but as a group they're holding up pretty good. But the reality of how much time has gone by sets in when you get together to say a prayer for all the people from that group who have passed away. There were quite a few.
"NOW I JUST PLAN to stay busy and enjoy my retirement. I've got three kids and five grandkids, ages three to 15, and I really enjoy them. I take care of my lawn and fish a little, but I don't have anything too specific planned. Some mornings I can feel all of the old injuries, and I might feel like I am 75 for a bit, but I wouldn't change anything. For a kid from a small town to live out his dream and go play for Ohio State, that's still a pretty awesome thing."