Ohio roots in Super Bowl XLIII run deep


Findlay product Ben Roethlisberger will start in his second Super Bowl in four seasons Sunday (Photo by Findlay Publishing Co.)

As the birthplace of football, it is only appropriate Ohio is well-represented on the NFL’s biggest stage.

Pittsburgh and Arizona are set to kick off Super Bowl XLIII this weekend at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and there is no shortage of participating players and coaches hailing from the Buckeye State.

As the birthplace of football, it is only appropriate Ohio is well-represented on the NFL’s biggest stage.

Pittsburgh and Arizona are set to kick off Super Bowl XLIII this weekend at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium and there is no shortage of participating players and coaches hailing from the Buckeye State.

The following is a look at Ohio players and coaches ready to raise the Lombardi Trophy on ‘Super Sunday’…

‘Ben’ There, Done That

Perhaps the most recognizable Ohioan is Findlay native and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is making his second start in the Super Bowl in four years.

Roethlisberger, 26, set Ohio High School Athletic Association records in 1999 with 4,041 yards passing and 54 touchdowns as a senior – his only varsity season as Findlay’s quarterback. He now ranks No. 7 and No. 8, respectively, in those categories and is tied for fourth for touchdowns in a game with eight.

As a senior, Roethlisberger earned Division I Player of the Year honors and was runner-up for the prestigious Associated Press Mr. Football award, finishing behind Bedford Chanel’s Bam Childress. He played in both the Ohio North-South All-Star Classic and the Big 33 game.

Roethlisberger also captained the Findlay basketball and baseball teams.

From there, Roethlisberger was a three-year starter for Miami (Ohio) setting school records in completions (854), yards passing (10,829), touchdowns (84), and total offensive yards (11,075).

The Steelers drafted Roethlisberger No. 11 in the 2004 NFL Draft and he led them to Pittsburgh’s fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history in 2005, a 21-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

He was 9-of-21 passing in the game for 123 yards and two interceptions with 25 yards rushing and a touchdown.

Getting Defensive

Linebacker James Harrison earned the AP’s Defensive Player of the YEar honors this season collecting 93 tackles, 16 sacks, a league-high seven forced fumbles and an interception in only his second season as a starter for the Steelers.

Harrison, 30, played at Akron Coventry but college recruiters shied away from him after an incident involving a BB-gun with his high school teammates and a coach.

He walked on at Kent State and was named first team all-MAC in 2000, finishing third in MAC Defensive Player of the Year balloting.

Coincidentally, Harrison sacked current teammate Roethlisberger five times in his final college game.

Harrison was undrafted out of college and spent time on and off the Steelers practice squad and played in Europe for Baltimore before joining the Steelers for the fourth time in 2004. He started three games in 2005 for the Super Bowl Championship team and has remained with the Steelers since.

He is the first undrafted player to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.

Quite The Catch

He might not be the first Pittsburgh receiver that comes to mind when thinking of Steelers pass-catchers but Nate Washington is the team’s third leading receiver behind all-world Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.

Washington, 25, reeled in 40 catches this season for 631 yards and three touchdowns.

Like Harrison, Washington was a small-school college player that was undrafted in 2005. In college, he set records at Tiffin for receptions in a game (13), yards in a game (299), receptions in a season (70), yards in a season (1,428), touchdowns in a season (16), receptions in a career (212), yards in a career (4,214), and touchdown receptions (47).

Washington, 25, is a Toledo native and was first team All-City, All-District and Honorable Mention All-State as a senior at Scott High School.

Russell Athletic

Only in his second professional season, running back Gary Russell showed he is a viable third option in the Pittsburgh rushing offense. In the regular season, he had 77 yards rushing on 28 carries and three touchdowns being used in short-yardage and goal line situations.

Russell, 22, added another touchdown in the 23-14 AFC Championship game win over Baltimore.

He was signed by Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2007 after sitting out his junior year at Minnesota for academic ineligibility. In two seasons at Minnesota, he rushed for 1,278 yards on 210 carries and 18 touchdowns.

Russell graduated from Columbus Walnut Ridge in 2004, earning all-state honors as a senior with 2,136 yards and 29 touchdowns. His junior season he rushed for 1,800 yards and 29 scores.

Ohio High ranked Russell as the No. 10 top prospect in the Class of 2004.

Russell also wrestled and played basketball at Walnut Ridge.

Earning His Stripes

Sean McHugh graduated from Chagrin Falls in 2000 where he starred at running back earning four letters and rushed for over 2,000 yards his senior season for the Tigers.

He played in the Big 33 game with teammate Roethlisberger and also lettered twice in wrestling.

McHugh, 26, went on to letter four times at Penn State where he moved to fullback and collected 322 yards on 82 carries and six touchdowns in his career. He also had 44 catches for 297 yards and another touchdown.

As a pro, McHugh spent his first two seasons with Detriot before signing with Pittsburgh this season. He has been used primarily as a tight end and has 23 carreer receptions for 301 yards.

Safety First

Three-year veteran Anthony Smith is an up-and-coming safety for the Steelers that recorded nine tackles for Pittsburgh this season.

The Syracuse product ranks third all-time in school history in tackles (293) and interceptions (14) while holding the record for blocked kicks with six. In 2005, he was a first team All-Big East selection.

In addition to his defensive prowess, Smith, 25, was an offensive star in high school toting the ball for Hubbard. He rushed for 1,787 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior for the one-loss Eagles and recorded six interceptions.

Smith earned All-State honors as a junior with 1,475 yards and 26 touchdowns as well as 45 tackles, six interceptions and ten pass break-ups.

‘Big Red’ Machine

Andre Frazier is in his fifth year in the NFL, originally hailing from Cincinnati.

Frazier, 26, earned first team all-city twice while at Hughes High School lettering twice for the Big Red in basketball as well.

He redshirted for a year at Cincinnati, eventually earning first team All-Conference USA recognition at linebacker as a senior. Frazier is Cincinnati’s second all-time leader in sacks with 22.5.

Frazier was an undrafted free agent but was signed by Pittsburgh and played in 11 games for the Steelers in 2005. He was waived the next season and picked up by Cincinnati where he played for two seasons before returning to Pittsburgh in 2007.

He had 10 tackles this season.

Polar Bear In The Desert

Arizona defensive end Bryan Robinson is a 12-year NFL veteran spending time with St. Louis, Chicago, Miami, and Cincinnati. He is in his first season with the Cardinals.

Robinson, 34, had 20 tackles this season and has 368 career tackles (277 solo) and 23 sacks.

He was an undrafted free agent coming out of Fresno State where he played two seasons and was named first team All-WAC Pacific Division as a senior leading the team with five sacks and seven tackles for loss.

Prior to Fresno State, Robinson played two seasons at College of the Desert Community College and tallied 77 tackles as a sophomore.

Robinson played for Toledo Woodward in high school, where he was a second team all-district selection as a junior and named to the all-district first team as a senior for the Polar Bears.

Bouncing Bomber

A 2001 Cincinnati St. Xavier graduate, Arizona center Pat Ross has already had quite the NFL tour of duty.

Ross, 25, was an undrafted free agent out of Boston College and spent all of 2006 on the Seattle practice squad. In 2007, he spent time with Seattle, New England and Indianapolis. He landed in Arizona in 2008 after the Colts and Carolina released him in the preseason.

At Boston College, Ross was a team captain his senior year and earned second team all-ACC recognition. As a junior, Ross was a second team all-Big East selection.

In high school, Ross earned Division I All-Ohio second team recognition with 60 tackles, seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss as a senior. Ross was also a two-time all-Greater Catholic League selection, including best defensive lineman honors.

He played in the Big 33 game in 2000.

Ross was also a four-year shot put and discus thrower on the track and field team.

Practice Makes Perfect

Defensive tackle Keilen Dykes makes the trip to Tampa on Arizona’s practice squad.

A Youngstown Chaney graduate, Dykes earned All-Ohio, All-City and All-Northeast Ohio honors as a senior with 75 tackles and 9.5 sacks. He was a four-year starter totaled and 18 sacks as a junior and was selected for the North-South and Big 33 all-star games.

Dykes, 24, went on to play at West Virginia, where he started 44 career games collecting 130 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one interception and three pass breakups and played in four bowl games including three wins.

Calling The Shots

Three native Ohioans will be coaching on Sunday, most notably, Pittsburgh Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau.

LeBeau, 71, has coached in the NFL for 35 years following 14-year playing career in which he was a three-time Pro Bowler. He played his college ball at Ohio State and was drafted by Cleveland although he never ended up playing for the Browns.

His Steelers defense led the NFL this season in total defense.

Most experts feel the London, Ohio native is a sure-fire Hall of Famer after he retires.

Joining LeBeau on the Steelers staff is wide receivers coach Randy Fichtner. He is in his second season with Pittsburgh after spending his career in the college ranks, most recently as the Memphis Offensive Coordinator.

A Cleveland native, Fichtner graduated from Purdue in 1985.

On Arizona’s staff, Youngstown native Bill Davis is in his 17th season coaching and his second as the Cardinals linebackers coach. He was previously the defensive coordinator for San Francisco.

Davis broke into the league in 1992 with the Steelers coaching with LeBeau under longtime Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher has coached all over the league in his professional career.

Davis played quarterback and receiver at Cincinnati from 1985-88.

Adopted Ohioans

Holmes is a Florida native but Ohio State fans remember him as an All-Big Ten receiver when he was a Buckeye. Holmes was at Ohio State from 2003-05 and tallied 243 catches for 2,295 yards and 25 touchdowns while gaining 3,123 all-purpose yards.

Holmes, 24, was the only receiver drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft when Pittsburgh selected him as the No. 25 pick overall.  

Martin Nance is another Steelers receiver that is on the practice squad roster for the Super Bowl. He is originally from Missouri but played college football at Miami (Ohio) alongside current teammate Roethlisberger. In 2003, Nance led the MAC in receiving yards per game and broke Miami’s single-season receiving records for receptions (90) and receiving yards (1,498).

He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the 2004 season-opener ending his college career as Miami’s third leading receiver in school history.

Nance, 25, was an undrafted free agent and has spent time with Minnesota, Buffalo and now Pittsburgh.

Death, Taxes And The Big 33

The Big 33 Football Classic is one of the nation’s top all-star football games showcasing Pennsylvania and Ohio’s top senior football players.

The game is often described as ‘The Super Bowl of High School Football’ and at least one Big 33 alumni has participated in the NFL’s Super Bowl since the Classic began in 1967.

With Roethlisberger, McHugh Ross and Dykes all alumni of the Big 33 game all set for this season’s Super Bowl, the streak stays alive. 

Other notable alumni of the game include: Tony Dorsett, Matt Millen, Joe Montana, Joe Namath, John Cappelletti, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Rocket Ismail, Kerry Collins, Orlando Pace, Ricky Watters, Antonio Freeman, Ed McCaffrey, Marvin Harrison, Sean Gilbert and Curtis Martin.


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