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Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel travels to a lot of places to find talented players, and to meet quality people who are interested in supporting the Buckeyes.
Those endeavors keep bringing him back to northwest Ohio.
Tressel, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, and their wives were in Toledo Wednesday night for a fund-raising scholarship dinner, and Tressel said the passion for the Buckeyes he encountered at the even is part of the constant reminder he gets on their importance in the Toledo area and throughout the state.
"In Ohio, football is deeply woven into the culture, and the fabric of what we're all about," Tressel said. "So when I have the opportunity to get around and have a chance to hear folks buzzing about it, it reminds you that football really is a big deal. It's exciting to be here, and to experience their enthusiasm."
Tressel, who led the Buckeyes to a fifth straight Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl victory, and an 11-2 record last season, is preparing for his 10th year in charge of the Ohio State program. He said the OSU boosters he shared time with Wednesday night help contribute to an expectation of excellence.
"I think if you look at anything done at a high level, usually the participants are from a culture that has assigned importance to that activity," Tressel said.
"Whether it's the World Cup in soccer - for those folks in The Netherlands and Spain - that meant everything to them. Here, people love college football, and they want to see it played at a high level. They want to be associated with something that meets their standard, and we're very proud of that."
Tressel said he has strong relationships with a number of the high school coaches in this part of the state - such as Doug Pearson of St. John's, Greg Dempsey at Central Catholic, and Rick Rios at Rogers - because many of the coaches in the Toledo area have the same vision as the Buckeyes' staff does on what they hope to accomplish working with young people.
"It's great to be around coaches like coach Pearson and coach Dempsey and coach Rios and many others around here, because those guys really love the game," Tressel said.
"And what I love about the guys that I've gotten to know around this area on the high school coaching level is, that it's more than about football. Sure, they love to compete in football and all of that stuff, but they really want to make sure they raise good kids - and that's what we're in the business for. It is a natural for us to connect with them and their kids."
Central Catholic product Dane Sanzenbacher will be a senior wide receiver for the Buckeyes this fall, while Jack Mewhort from St. John's will be a redshirt freshman offensive lineman. Defensive end Kenny Hayes of Whitmer and defensive back Derjuan Gambrell of Rogers, both high school seniors, have made verbal commitments to play for the Buckeyes next year.
Tressel, who has 229 career wins as a head coach and nine national title game appearances including his time at Ohio State and Youngstown State, led the Buckeyes to a national championship in the 2002 season. His team will enter the 2010 season as the favorite to win a sixth consecutive Big Ten crown, and ranked in the top three nationally.
Tressel, who will travel to Chicago on Sunday for the Big Ten's annual football meetings and media days that precede the start of preseason practice, said the fervor of folks he meets at events like Wednesday night's scholarship dinner is indicative of the passion for the Buckeyes he finds throughout Ohio.
"We're real fortunate that our entire state loves the game of football," he said. "You get reminded of that every time you go to a function like this in any one of these pockets around Ohio, and the Toledo area is a very good one for us."
The Buckeyes open the 2010 season at home with a Thursday night game on Sept. 2 against Marshall.
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