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Published: Sunday, 4/18/2004

Hindsight makes Hite's sight look blurry


FINDLAY — His name will forever be linked to an infamous trivia question.

Who is the only guy who could stop Ben Roethlisberger from throwing touchdown passes in high school?

The answer is Cliff Hite, the Findlay High School football coach who chose to play his son Ryan at quarterback as a senior in 1998, while moving Roethlisberger, a junior, to wide receiver.

Hite insists his decision wasn't an act of nepotism, or a horrendous miscalculation. But he has drawn plenty of criticism for it over the years, and it has intensified now that Roethlisberger is expected to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft — as a quarterback.

“I'm a nationally known |knucklehead in many people's eyes,” Hite concedes.

That's because Roethlisberger went from hidden secret to superstar as a senior after replacing the graduated Ryan Hite, a two-year starter at quarterback.

“It's funny,” Cliff Hite said. “People are like, ‘How could you do that, play your kid ahead of Roethlisberger?' Well, we did a bunch of drills and my son throwing to Ben was a better combination, we thought, than the other way around.

“Not that my son was a better passer, but we ran more than we threw that year, and my son was a better option guy, so we went with him.”

Hite has been hearing about it ever since.

In his one season at receiver, Roethlisberger caught 57 passes for 757 yards and seven touchdowns, and was named first-team all-district.

Ryan Hite passed for 1,732 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 10 games. He was named first-team all league and helped lead the Trojans to a 7-3 record and the Great Lakes League title.

By comparison, Roethlisberger passed for 4,041 yards and 54 touchdowns in 12 games as a senior in 1999. He ran for seven touchdowns and tossed just eight interceptions as Findlay went 10-2 and reached the second round of the Division I state playoffs.

Roethlisberger often wonders what might have happened had he been the Trojans' starting quarterback for two years instead of one.

“Other than that,” he said, “I don't have many regrets.”

Ken Roethlisberger, a former Georgia Tech quarterback, has been careful not to publicly criticize Hite for playing Ryan ahead of his son Ben.

“Like I tell people, it's real easy to sit here now and say coach Hite is an idiot, but he wasn't,” Ken said. “It was a coach's call. You make good ones, you make bad ones. And I'm not even saying this was a bad one. We can say it was now, but how do we know for sure?”

Ironically, the elder Hite started just one season at quarterback for Findlay before earning a scholarship to Kentucky in the 1970s.

After his one season, Roethlisberger went on to star at Miami (Ohio), where the three-time team MVP threw for 10,829 yards passing and 84 touchdowns. He led the RedHawks to a GMAC Bowl win before deciding to leave a year early.

And the 6-5, 245-pound junior is expected to be one of the top three quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft, along with Mississippi's Eli Manning and North Carolina State's Philip Rivers.

Meanwhile, Ryan Hite started 10 games at quarterback as a freshman at Division III Denison, throwing for 976 yards and eight touchdowns. But then he moved to receiver and set numerous career and single-season records by the time he graduated in 2002, finishing with 162 catches for 2,027 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Talk about an odd twist.

“It makes the story even more ridiculous on my part, because I didn't think my son was a very good receiver in high school, and I didn't think he had very good hands,” Cliff Hite said. “He fooled me.”

There are those who would argue that Roethlisberger fooled him too, but Hite disagrees.

“Where did anybody get hurt in all this?” he said. “Ben got votes for the Heisman Trophy this year. He got votes for the Davey O'Brien Award. He's coming out of college early and he's going to be among the top picks in the NFL draft.

“My son ended up being a receiver at a Division III school because of his size. He ended up setting a bunch of school records and he had a tryout with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League. He didn't make it, but he's studying to be a youth pastor now.

“I'm proud of Ben. And I'm proud of my son.”

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