April 2007 Issue
Backing a Winner
It's understandable why there were a few smiles in the city of Ashtabula when the University of Florida defeated Ohio State in the BCS National Championship game on January 8.
No, it's not that anyone was turning his back on the Buckeyes. Instead, some of the city's residents were rooting for the hometown boy - Florida coach Urban Meyer - to make good.
"I've been an Ohio State fan my whole life, but I wanted Urban to win," says Tom Penna, a former classmate of Meyer's and now the basketball coach at their alma mater, St. John High School, now known as Saints John and Paul Catholic School in Ashtabula.
"You're talking to a guy who has a Woody Hayes picture for the wallpaper on his computer," adds Ray Kovacs, another classmate. "But you have to pull for the hometown guy."
Kovacs and several friends attended the title game in Glendale, Arizona, where they had mixed emotions. "All four of us are huge Ohio State fans," he says. "It was odd. We wanted to see Urban win a close game."
That's one area in which they didn't get their wish. Florida trounced Ohio State, 41-14 to win the national title in Meyer's second season as the Gators' head coach.
The group visited with Meyer two days before the game. "Urban's a serious guy, but that day he was really relaxed," Kovacs says.
Meyer, 42, played football, basketball and baseball in high school before graduating in 1982. For those close to him, it was evident he had a bright future.
"He was always very focused and very intent," Penna says. "He always wanted to learn all he could."