JACKSONVILLE -- Reid Fragel doesn't remember how old he was at the time he found out his grandpa was a pretty big guy.
Not just physically big, but legend, icon big.
Fragel's grandpa, Joe Stalma, won 288 games in nearly two decades as the head basketball coach at Rossford. That's large, even to Fragel, the 6-foot-8 junior tight end for Ohio State's football team.
Stalma's teams won nine Northern Lakes League titles, 12 sectional championships, six district crowns, two regional titles, and went a stunning 30-11 against teams from the City League. His 1969-70 team was Class AA state runner-up.
"I didn't have any knowledge of it at all, really, and I was just going along thinking he was just my grandfather, until that night they named the basketball court after him," Fragel said after he and the rest of the Buckeyes concluded Wednesday's practice session at the University of North Florida in preparation for Monday's Gator Bowl matchup with Florida.
"But at that ceremony in Rossford, I realized how special a guy he was. It kind of blew me away to see him out there getting that honor and how much all the people loved him. I was really surprised, but really proud once I realized what it all meant."
The Joe Stalma Court in the storied Wolfe Field House, where Stalma's teams once put together a 47-game winning streak, is just one of the testaments to Stalma's hall of fame career. Fragel said he has used his grandfather as a source of inspiration throughout his own athletic endeavors.
"He's one of my heroes," Fragel said. "He's been through a lot with cancer and all, but he's always been strong, a fighter."
When Ohio State completed its pre-bowl practices in Columbus just before Christmas and sent the players home for a few days, Fragel stopped in Rossford to see his 80-year-old grandfather on his way home to the Detroit area.
"That's something I always look forward to, since it's always a great time when I can visit with him and just catch up on things," Fragel said. "It's something I've enjoyed since I was a little kid."
Fragel, a management and industry major, said the words that come from his grandfather are a careful melding of the wisdom gleaned from a career in coaching with that softer-edged stuff that started on grandpa's knee nearly 20 years ago.
"It's a blend of the two," Fragel said. "He gives me great perspective on things. And I think he gives me a pretty unbiased opinion. I get the knowledge from both sides, from the coach and the grandfather, and it's been really helpful."
Fragel, who has played in all 38 games in his Ohio State career, has been a regular force in the Buckeyes' offensive blocking schemes, where the other tight end, Jake Stoneburner, is more often split outside away from the line or in the slot.
"I'm terribly proud of him for being a conscientious student and for being a very solid football player," said Stalma, who himself was a multisport standout athlete like Fragel who chose football over basketball in college.
Stalma played football at Duquesne, and when that school dropped the program following his sophomore season, Stalma transferred to Toledo where he played with Mel Triplett, George Machoukas, Jocko Gordon, and Bob Branyan.
Stalma said dealing with adversity of another form is something his grandson and the rest of the Buckeyes have had to face during a year of scandal and NCAA investigations.
"It's been tough on those kids, and the whole situation is like some kind of black hole you just can't get out of," Stalma said. "A lot of good kids got hurt by the problems caused by a few. They'll come out of it OK, eventually, but it's been rough on everyone."
Stalma said he will be eyeing his grandson closely in the Gator Bowl, making sure Fragel's blocking technique is sound and his execution of each play is complete.
"I watched him grow up from a little kid, and there he is starting for Ohio State. That's something," said Stalma.
"I still remember the time when I was bigger than him."
In Fragel's eyes, his grandfather is still a very big man.
"That will never change," Fragel said.
Contact Matt Markey at email@example.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @MattMarkey.
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