Archives for May 2014

The Larger Than Life Story of Buckeye Ernie Wright


I’ve struggled to find the right picture with which to introduce the remarkable life of Ohioan Ernie Wright. Ernie starred on the football fields of Toledo, Columbus, Los Angeles, San Diego and Cincinnati but his greatest legacy lie in his founding and building Pro Kids, a remarkable inner city education and sports facility that has been a prized charity of the PGA and USGA. Ernie died of pancreatic cancer in 2007 but his story is so big and so impactful that the choice of where to begin is as delicious as it is difficult.


A first thought was to describe a drive east on I-8 from the shores of San Diego, getting off the freeway at the Montezuma exit and heading through a perplexing neighborhood on the way to San Diego State University. On the one hand you cannot help but notice the colorful vegetation basking in the warm sunshine. But as you keep driving and take a turn southward toward University Blvd, you notice that you are entering a neighborhood that can politely be termed transitional, but by the time you turn right on University and then take another quick right, you realize you have arrived in the midst of a run-down struggling inner city neighborhood.

But in the midst of this depressing environment, all the sudden you pull into the parking lot of Colina Park Golf Course to find a lush and beautiful oasis, that with its beautiful welcoming building out front, could easily be mistaken for a country club (but for its par 3 size). But coming to and from this paradise are young people of every color and background. Walking past the patter of happy children and the beautiful waterfall you see the bronze bust of the man identified as Ernie Wright.

I could choose pictures at other locations to start this story. I could go up 35 miles to the Marine Corps town of Oceanside, which also has impoverished areas, one of which is home to the Pro Kids, Ely Callaway Golf and Learning Center for Children.


Or, just a few miles from Oceanside, at the La Costa Resort and Spa, where greats such as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino prevailed in PGA play, I could introduce you to Ernie by the trophy that greets you as you enter the men’s locker room.

ernie lacosta trophy

I could introduce you with a photo of Ernie surrounded by his twin mentors, father Floyd and coach Woody Hayes, and I could tell you about Ernie’s greatness at Ohio State before Ernie was enticed to leave in 1960 (with the support of Coach Hayes) before his senior year to take the money of the founders of the start-up American Football League’s Los Angeles Chargers (who would move to San Diego a year later). erniewoodyfloyd

Or I could start with a picture of an imposing Ernie in Charger gear alongside his beautiful and demure wife Edith, whom Ernie met while she attended the rival, and now defunct, Toledo Libby High School. ernie with Edith
Or I could start with a picture of Ernie coming full circle to end his career as a Cincinnati Bengal in the state where it all started.

Ernie protecting the blind side for the Bengals

Ernie protecting the blind side for the Bengals

But I think the best place to start is by considering the span in between two family episodes without pictures. In April, 2014, at the beautiful seaside hotel in San Diego adjacent to the venerable Torrey Pines Golf Course, hundreds of San Diegans paid $300 a plate to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Pro Kids, an inner city youth training and development academy that has flourished with golf as a backdrop in the inner city of San Diego.

Holding the celebration at a hotel overlooking Torrey Pines was altogether fitting. In those early years, the pros at Torrey Pines provided support and influence that helped elevate the new charity to a multiple PGA Charity of the Year and the model program for the USGA’s First Tee Program. Early founders of the program remember bringing young inner city new golfers in the program to introduce them to golf at a more glamorous level than the then run down impoverished Colina Park. Those founders had tears in their eyes as they realized that half of the youngsters, though living only a few miles from the ocean, stared in glorious wonder at their first sight of it.

But I digress. The banquet celebrated the young children served by Pro Kids with the full star power of San Diego, with technology, but most importantly with the kids themselves—kids, now many of them young men and women, who have gone on to successful careers after graduating from college with scholarships provided by Pro Kids, and computer and learning skills developed in the two story country club like structure at Colina Park.

The celebration continued in front of several tables filled with the family of Ernie Wright. To the right of the stage was the tall, charming and energetic widow of Ernie, Victoria, who is still actively involved in Pro Kids, and who was seated with long time outgoing Pro Kids CEO Marty Remmell and former CFO Amy Romaker (each of whom is among those in the long line of heroes and heroines in the Pro Kids story). Victoria sat, listened and softly wept as she once again saw the images of Ernie on the big screen in front and heard his voice.

To the left of the stage, and symbolically separated from Victoria by the divide of a table of the current leaders of Pro Kids, were two full tables that included Ernie’s look alike brother Floyd Jr. (“Uncle Buddy,” himself a star for the Toledo Rockets), his children, and their mother—the same, regal and beautiful, Edith. The children, whose success Ernie always attributed to the tireless devotion of their mother, are Cheryl, an internist at Sharp Hospital, Laura, a CPA in Los Angeles (or as Ernie would say, CPA to the stars), Ernie Jr., an affable and friendly lawyer who played football at the University of Kansas, and Howard, a Stanford alum and Qualcomm executive who played basketball professionally for eleven years, including three in the NBA.

Seven years after Ernie’s death, this family still basks in the charitable legacy that the family has so richly earned. And that Ernie gave life to.

But the image that is most enduring and most telling comes from circa 1938 when a teenage Floyd Wright, father of Ernie, sat on top of a bus in Florida so that he could get high enough to watch his beloved Toledo Waite High School football team lose a national championship game in the warmth of Florida. Young Floyd’s heroes lost that day owing largely to the fact that their most dominant hero, 6’3” 230 pound Floyd himself, was denied even entry to the stadium because of the color of his skin. From the photo below one can see and feel the pain and torment of a young man, so determined and talented. It is so heart breaking.

Ernie Floyd high school

Without much opportunity for a black man to play college ball, Floyd finished high school, married, worked multiple jobs and started a family. When chubby son Ernie came home one day to announce he was going to play freshman football at Scott High School (a companion high school to Toledo’s Waite), Floyd, angry that Ernie did not try out for varsity, told Ernie to meet him every night in the backyard after Ernie’s practice. In the months that followed, each night after Floyd’s multiple shifts, with the assistance of Floyd’s sharp elbows and overpowering strength, Floyd would “teach” Ernie in the backyard mud how to play the game.

So the searing example of an understandably seething father set the template for a man that through football would give life to the dreams his father could not achieve on his own, though through no fault of his own. But in life, the baton of heroism is often passed from one hero to the next. So it would later become with Pro Kids, then it was in Ernie’s life. As a high school senior, Ernie was about to sign to play for the University of Purdue, when Woody Hayes, after being alerted by family friends, asked Ernie’s parents if he could come calling. Ernie’s mother recalled that while other coaches were promising this great thing and that great thing would happen if Ernie attended their school, Woody sat down with the woman later to be known as “Gams” or “Gammy” and said simply, “I’ll take care of your son.”

Long before Woody lost his offensive and defensive line star by telling Ernie he was right to take the fledgling AFL’s money and forgo his senior season, Woody Hayes proved over and again he was true to his word to Mrs. Wright, and then some. Once Ernie’s mom broke her ankle so severely she could not care for herself. Floyd, working three jobs still simply could not afford to take the time off, so Ann and Woody, in an act of kindness that would trigger the harshest penalty from the NCAA today, took Mrs. Wright into their home for weeks and nursed her to health.

Not that Ernie ever thought of Woody as any kind of softie, a point made abundantly clear early in his sophomore year—the first year a student could play at the varsity level. With Ohio State getting shut out at halftime, Ernie was confused to see the veteran players rush to the back of locker room. After a maniacal Hayes stormed into the locker room, twisting face masks and punching players within range with a force only matched by his spitting screaming, Ernie was relieved of his confusion. The Buckeyes went on to win in a rout.

It is difficult to comprehend the complexities of these two portraits and their relevance to the great topics of race, achievement and charity. On the one hand, the two great influences on Ernie’s life, a black father whose strength and torment was forged in the world overseen by the benevolent but combustible white coach and protector, and on the other, two wives, one black and one white, beautiful and wonderful in their own rights, seated amidst their own loving and wonderful families at a commemoration of the greatest achievement by a man who achieved much, separated by one mere table yet also separated by all the natural animosities of life. A family divided by divorce still basked in and celebrated much they achieved, not only with Ernie, but in fact together.


Son Howard, who has inherited his father’s legacy and who now sits as the chair of this wonderful and growing charity, remarks at the complexity of his father. Those who knew Ernie at first have trouble digesting that. Ernie was a seemingly smart, funny and positive man who spoke thoughtfully and wisely with obvious experience to back up his thoughts. No complexity in that. But when you contemplate these two portraits, you wonder how it could be anything but complex. Ernie did not suffer sleights or fools easily, as one of Cheryl’s teachers learned upon a visit from Ernie after the teacher, guided perhaps by a latent racism or sexism, suggested to a distraught Cheryl that she temper her dreams of becoming a doctor and shoot more for something like being a nurse. Yet Ernie’s best friends, and even family, knew no bounds based on race or background.

And you can add to the complexity. As an example, Ernie was a conservative Republican. One could say it was a different Republican Party then, but even that is too simplistic. A man that spent much of his life devoted to providing a life-saving opportunity to adults and children of color with little means was a man wise to the unfairness of life but aware that given tools, any person can grow past that unfairness by taking advantage of those tool–party affiliation has no place in such a logic.

None of us is insulated from mistakes, even very large ones. Ernie would laughingly reflect (written in this article), for example, on a time he sat outside a Las Vegas casino after having lost all his cash and asked an older, wealthier mentor for a temporary loan since he was a good online player and a book maker so he explained; Why the bookmaker will never go bankrupt by comparethebets. He would then recount the old gentleman wrapping his arm around Ernie and advising, “Son, if you look around at all these vast buildings and consider they are paid for with the losings of suckers like you, maybe you’d reconsider.” Ernie never gambled at a casino again (friendly games for a few dollars based on skill on the golf course remained a fun part of his life).

This is what made Ernie different—and thus perhaps more complex. He acknowledged his mistakes openly with a self-reflective head shake and a short sentence or two that reflected his grasp of the lesson to be taken. That Lincolnesque quality to step back and look at oneself with a forgiving eye indeed is what vested Ernie in a hard learned and deeply seeded acceptance of the humanity in himself and others. He did not suffer fools lightly, true, but as he aged he suffered them with a calmness and a determination to help one grow if he could do so simply and meaningfully, but certainly he learned to not let a fool interfere with his underlying purpose at any given time.

Ernie had a way of parsing praise and criticism, including self-criticism, even-handedly. Undoubtedly, if alive today, he would continue criticism for a few positions taken by those who reside on the political right, but he would likely be near horrified at the increasing separation between today’s evolving left and his core beliefs. The lessons on how to live a life and grow as a human were hard earned by his entire family—ancestors and offspring . Ernie, like his entire family, was a man who stared down barriers and attitudes, used all the tools at his disposal and found no use for the wasted energy and distraction of victimhood.

Pro Kids, which now adopts (at Howard’s wise instigation) the mission to help solve the growing digital divide between rich and poor, providing computer and technology access in a nurturing and safe environment in neighborhoods where the average family income is only $25,000. Golf is employed more as a fun and healthy backdrop. But the Wright family legacy is even greater. Ernie Jr., who took over Ernie’s growing business that offered half way house employment opportunities to adults finishing incarceration, now looks for mixed-use land opportunities to provide similar outreaches of hope to battered women, abused children and others in need. ernie and ernie jr

The legacy of Ernie Wright is the legacy born of the pain of Floyd, Edith, Cheryl and Laura Wright. It is now overseen by Victoria, Howard and Ernie Wright, Jr. It is a story remarkable for its pain and triumph. With all its color and complexity, it is a successful Buckeye, San Diego and American love story.

ernie plaque

12 New Buckeyes in the NFL

In what can be described as a come back year for Ohio State in the NFL draft and Free Agency Market considering the past few years lack of Buckeyes making the leap to the NFL. Bottom line Ohio State has never had a problem getting guys drafted or in the NFL in general. They rank 1st in draft picks since the NCAA went to a maximum of 85 scholarships. They are top 3 All time in drafted players. So lets look at where all the Buckeyes ended up.


Ryan Shazier- 1st Round Pick #15 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bradley Roby- 1st Round Pick #31 by the Denver Broncos.
Carlos Hyde- 2nd Round Pick #57 by the San Francisco 49ers.
Jack Mewhort- 2nd Round Pick #59 by the Indianapolis Colts.
Corey Linsley- 5th Round Pick #161 by the Green Bay Packers.
Christian Bryant- 7th Round Pick #241 by the St. Louis Rams.


CJ Barnett- New York Giants
Drew Basil- Atlanta Falcons
Philly Brown- Carolina Panthers
Andrew Norwell- Carolina Panthers
Chris Fields- Washington Redskins
Marcus Hall- Indianapolis Colts


Kenny Guiton- Headed to a tryout with the Buffalo Bills.
Pitt Brown- Possibly headed to the Steelers for a tryout.
Jordan Hall- Headed to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a tryout.

Good luck to all of the Former Buckeyes where ever their careers take them. Once a Buckeye always a Buckeye.

MotSaG Chat with Jared Payton

The 2017 class for the state of Ohio is loaded with talent. So much so that even though it is 2014 and these kids are just finishing up their Freshman year of high school they are already receiving lots of interest and offers and in some instances like Danny Clark already committed to their dream school. Jared Payton falls in the group of big time talents who are receiving a ton of interest from some of the biggest schools in the country. Jared made a visit this past weekend to Ohio State and took some time after to talk with me about that experience.

Jared who grew up a Florida Gators fan and has told me that is his dream school made the trek to OSU on Saturday. The trek was short as he lives maybe 20 mins from Ohio State in Gahanna. The Safety/Linebacker was hoping to be impressed with Ohio State and by the sounds of it they didn’t let him down. When I asked how did it go his response with was quick and to the point “OMG it was amazing”.


Jared spent most of the day on Saturday taking a tour of Ohio State and meeting coaches and other recruits. He said he got to talk with Coach Meyer and Asst. Head Coach/RB coach Stan Drayton and was impressed by both of them. Jared fell in love with the campus and was thrilled with what he heard about the Academics side. Jared mentioned about how the coaches talked to them about life after football and always having a need for a Plan B. That the coaches hope to turn the players not only into better players but better men.

Jared spent time getting to know some fellow recruits like Miles Joseph, Drew Harvey, and George Hill. Rumors were swirling around on Saturday that George Hill was close to committing. Jared said Coach Meyer talked a lot about George Hill in the meetings and that George rally loves OSU and could see him committing to OSU and possibly playing together some day.

Jared mentioned that visiting the weight room was one of his favorite parts of the visit. He said it was extremely impressive and brand new. He again mentioned the academics side as another favorite part of the visit. He is unsure what he will major in but academics will help him with his Plan B. Jared didn’t get an offer on Saturday but did walk away impressed overall and said the visit was a perfect 10 and that Ohio State is right at the top of his list equal with even his childhood dream school Florida.

When asked what one thing he would like Buckeye fans to know about him he said… “To play for the Buckeyes would be a high honor! And I will bring everything I have all the time on the field! No one will out work me!”

You can follow Jared on Twitter by clicking @JaredPayton15

St. Louis Rams Draft Christian Bryant in Round Seven

With the 241st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams selected Ohio State safety Christian Bryant. Bryant missed most of his senior season after suffering a broken ankle late in the game against Wisconsin. Bryant was a three year starter for the Buckeyes and was named a team captain his senior season. Over the course of his career at Ohio State, he recorded 171 tackles, had two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He was named second team All-Big Ten during his junior season and was second on the team overall in total tackles (only trailing Ryan Shazier). Take a look at your new safety, Rams’ fans:

Here were some of the reactions to Bryant getting drafted on Twitter:

And here’s the man himself:

I think I speak for everyone in Buckeye Nation is saying how great it is to see Christian Bryant get drafted. He’s such a great guy and it was heartbreaking to see his senior season cut short. Urban Meyer himself got choked up on the podium after the Wisconsin game (see in the video above) announcing Bryant’s injury. If Bryant doesn’t get injured his draft stock would’ve been a lot higher. He was badly missed by the Buckeyes after his injury and for good reason. Bryant is a solid defensive back who should at least contribute on special teams for the Rams this season. If he can stay healthy, he might contribute even more.

Green Bay Selects Corey Linsley in the 5th Round

With the 161st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Ohio State center Corey Linsley. Linsley was the starting center for the Buckeyes his junior and senior season. He saw playing time at tackle and guard his freshman and sophomore seasons. His versatility of being able to play every position on the line is going to be a big plus for him. With Green Bay being thin at center, Linsley could see a lot of playing time soon. The draft was quite deep this season, which meant pretty solid players like Linsley have slid down the draft board until the third day. Take a look at your new offensive lineman, Green Bay fans:

I had no idea he grew up a Packers fan, so I’m sure he’s pretty excited about heading north to Wisconsin. I myself forgot how great he played with the Buckeyes and is one of the more underrated linemen in the draft. Linsley should have a pretty solid NFL career ahead of him.

Indianapolis Colts Select Jack Mewhort in the Second Round

With the 59th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts drafted Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort. Mewhort was the best player on the line for the Buckeyes last season. He has great size at 6-6 and 310 pounds and moves much faster than someone you would expect at this size. Many expect Mewhort to be a starter in the NFL pretty soon. Mewhort was named an All-American by ESPN in 2013 and was a starter for three of his four seasons at Ohio State. Take a look at your new lineman, Colts’ fans:

Here were some of the reactions on Twitter on Mewhort being drafted to Indianapolis:

Jack Mewhort was one of my personal favorite on the team last season, especially after I interviewed him before the Orange Bowl in January. I thought he gave a great answer when I asked him what his biggest learning moment was in 2013. Great player and an even better person. Good pickup for the Colts offensive line.

San Francisco Drafts Carlos Hyde in the Second Round

With the 57th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde. For the second year in a row, no running backs were taken in the first round of the NFL Draft. Hyde was the third running back chosen. It was pretty surprising to see him fall this far in the draft, as many considered him the top running back in the draft. Hyde’s size and physical style of play should fit nicely in the NFL. He was the straw that stirred the drink for the Ohio State offense in 2013 and should make an impact immediately for the 49ers. Here’s a look at your newest running back, San Francisco fans:

Here were some of the reactions to the pick on Twitter:

While everyone in the B1G is breathing a sigh of relief, everyone in the NFC West just got a little more nervous about the 49ers.

Denver Broncos Draft Bradley Roby at 31st Overall

With the 31st pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby. The Broncos need help in their secondary and Roby will be a big help in that cause. Roby, who chose to forgo his senior season, struggled with injuries in 2013 and did not play in the 2014 Orange Bowl. Roby was a two time All-Big Ten selection and a second team All-American in 2012. Take a look at what your brand new cornerback brings to the team, Broncos’ fans:

Here were some of the reactions to the pick on Twitter, including from the man himself Urban Meyer:

Roby is the second Buckeye player drafted in the first round tonight. Earlier, Ryan Shazier was picked 15th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Ryan Shazier at #15 Overall

With the 15th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. After four successful years with the Buckeyes, Shazier will join a Pittsburgh team that is aging on the defensive side of the ball and should provide a much needed boost, as many draft pundits have called him one of the fastest linebackers in the draft. Here are some of the reactions on Twitter from teammates and the media:

For a better look at Shazier, check out this piece I did on him a few months ago. He’s a hard-hitting, fast defender who bullrushes ball carriers. He also plays with heart and can be leader on the defensive side of the ball. A great pickup for the Steelers.

MotSaG Chat with Steven Smothers

There is one thing Urban Meyer covets more than anything else as far as skills go in every recruit he targets. It doesn’t matter if it is a RB or WR or OL he wants speed and he wants lots of it. He wants his teams to be faster, give more effort, and be in better condition then every team. Steven Smothers is the kind of recruit that fits that mold perfectly and that is why Coach Meyer and his staff have made him a priority for the 2016 class.


Steven Smothers is a 5’9″ 162 lbs 4 star Wide Receiver from Reisterstown, MD. He is also the 62nd best player in the country and the 8th best WR prospect. Steven took some time recently to answer some questions and discuss his recruitment so far and what kind of recruit he is. It doesn’t take long to get to know the very outgoing and engaging WR recruit. He has a way about himself that reminds me of some of the best WRs to ever play football. He has a confidence about himself that while some old fogies may call it cocky most will understand it is just the way the wide receiver position has evolved in the last 2 decades. He is the kind of player who wants Buckeye Nation to know “That I’m the most electrifying player in the class of 2016!”. He truly believes that and when he says it you just know that he means to prove it as well.

So what makes Steven Smothers a recruit that Coach Meyer covets well first there is the speed factor. The speedy WR runs a 4.43 forty yard dash which is blazing fast but he is also agile. He is not a straight line speed only guy. He will make moves and even though his frame is small is not afraid to go across the middle and make plays any where on the field. In his Sophomore season in High School he had 50 catches for 1059 yards and 1895 all purpose yards and 17 Tds! Again I remind you that is as a Sophomore in high school. His upside is tremendous and will be a nationally coveted WR prospect. His highlight film speaks for itself.

Recently Smothers named Ohio State his leader with West Virginia as his no. 2 school. While many OSU fans will say well then it must be a slam dunk for OSU to land him. There should be no doubt that WVU is in this and will be till the very end. First, Tavon Austin the former all everything from WVU is Stevens God Brother and the two are extremely close. Steven says that Tavon gives him some solid advice on his recruitment but the most important thing he tells him is “to have fun with the whole process!” When I asked Steven how close is WVU to his leader OSU he said “Real close, I’ve been there so many times I’m really comfortable with that school an the coaches now!”. S as you can see the Mountaineers are in this and will be tough to beat and OSU will have to put the full press on Smothers through the whole process.

When will Steven get back to visit Ohio State? He plans on attending Friday Nights in July. Which is great news for OSU as this is the premier camp for OSU that shows recruits everything the staff and school can offer possible commits. Don’t think this will process will end any time soon though. When asked about his timeline for committing Steven made it clear he will take more time than most in fact his goal is “I’m going to sign a week or two after national signing day… I want to be the last big name recruit to sign!” Which once again reminds you of just the kind of player he is confident and outspoken young man who as I will remind you wants you to know he is “the most electrifying player in the class of 2016!” He says it with so much gusto that I really do believe him.

You can follow Steven Smothers on Twitter by clicking @KingSmoth_