Whenever Ohio State's football fortunes have ebbed—comparatively speaking—voluble alumni have talked about getting Woody Hayes out of town. Finally their goal has been attained, but Woody hasn't gone far, and the truth of the matter is that he has taken his team with him. Today, instead of finding Woody down by his 81,000-seat stadium in the center of the campus, it is necessary to cross the Olentangy River, untangle yourself from a spaghetti-pile of freeway intersections, and drive two miles past assorted chicken farms to something called Athletic Facility North, a giant complex of practice fields overlooked by a $600,000 structure that houses dressing rooms, meeting rooms and coaches' offices.
Out there the Ohio State football team can strain and train in privacy—which is fine with Woody Hayes. He likes to conduct his practices unobserved, and woe to the unsuspecting visitor who strolls in unexpected. Hayes issues red shirts to approved guests, who clutch them like papal blessings, and the uninvited get the bum's rush as quickly as Woody spots them.
There were times last year, as the Buckeyes muddled through a 4-5 season, that Hayes must have been tempted to evict his players and give uniforms to his red-shirt guests. Surely he had little to hide. But instead of showing the annoyance that this second-worst season in his 16 years at OSU might well have inspired, Woody took his reverses docilely.
"We just hadn't been getting enough of those quality boys," he says. "You can't imagine how unbelievably thin we were. We had to do so many things we don't like to do." Like throwing the ball 202 times. Everybody knows that is about 200 more forward passes than Hayes would like.
Such a situation was not likely to continue. Two superior recruiting years in a row have brightened the scene considerably. At least six, and maybe as many as nine, sophomores will be in the OSU starting lineup against Arizona on Sept. 30. Only six of the 22 offensive and defensive starters are seniors.
Help has come where Ohio State needed it most. The Buckeyes were losers last year because they could not score. They were beaten by Illinois 10-9 and Michigan State 11-8, and scored more than one touchdown in only four games. Aside from Quarterback Billy Long, an excellent technician and a super passer by Ohio standards—he completed 106 for 1,180 yards—and Split End Billy Anders, an outstanding receiver, OSU's offense was inoffensive. Now Long and Anders are back again, and this time they can expect to receive some assistance.
Part of the help will come from a pair of sophomore halfbacks, Dave Brungard and Ray Gillian, who are the kind Ohio State has not had in a while. They have good straightaway speed, can cut well when they get into the open and have excellent balance. Gillian, unfortunately, hurt a knee during the summer and his status is uncertain. So Brungard probably will start at left halfback with Rudy Hubbard at right half.
The fullback spot, usually an OSU strong point but a weak one last year, will also get some beefing up. Rudy Smith, who played there in 1966 until he fell into the coach's doghouse, is being pressed hard by two sophomores, 225-pound Paul Huff and 200-pound Jim Otis. Huff, particularly, can put some muscle back into the Buckeye running.
In addition, Hayes has made some changes designed to help spring his new backs loose. He has moved Dick Himes from defense to offense to team up with Dave Foley, a junior, at tackle. This makes Ohio State the only school in the country with two 6'5", 250-pound tackles who are honor students. John Muhlbach, a former second-string linebacker, goes to center, where he will be flanked by senior John Kelley and Alan Jack, a hard-charging sophomore who used to be a fullback. Rufus Mayes, another 6'5" player, will be back at tight end, assuming he recovers from a bleeding ulcer.
The rookies have made even deeper inroads into the defense. Paul Schmidlin and Brad Nielsen, both about 220 and very fast, will be the first-string tackles, while Dave Whitfield, who may be the best of all the newcomers, has taken over at one end. Whitfield is only 178 pounds, but he moves people. Another good one is Linebacker Dwight (they call him Ike, naturally) Fertig, a bristling 235-pounder who reminds everyone of Ike Kelley, Ohio State's All-America linebacker a couple of seasons ago. Three other youngsters, Linebacker Mike Radtke and Defensive Backs Ted Provost and Mike Polaski, may also make the starting team. There is just enough experience around to give the defense some stability. Nick Roman at end, Vic Stottlemyer at middle guard and Linebackers Mark Stier and Dirk Worden have seen at least a season of action, as have Jim Nein and Tom Portsmouth in the defensive secondary.
This all sounds impressive, but Woody Hayes is a believer in the old theory that you lose a game for every sophomore you start. Nine sophomores; nine defeats. He says he does not see how his young Bucks have a chance to beat Michigan State and Purdue. "We'll be better all around." he admits, "but we're not that good yet. We're too young, and we don't have quite enough people. But don't count us out. We're on the way back. People had better watch out for us soon."
The fact is they had better watch out right now. Woody loves to hide in the forest and ambush a favorite. Purdue, can you hear that rustling in the woods?