Lighty Chose Basketball Over Football

Ohio State senior forward David Lighty has proven himself to be the heart and soul of the team, but a number of years ago his future in the sport was in doubt. On senior day, take a look back at how the Buckeyes -- among others -- recruited him to play football and what led the Cleveland native to concentrate solely on basketball.

Had things gone a little differently, David Lighty would have celebrated a different senior day at Ohio State. A fifth-year senior forward on the men's basketball team, Lighty remains on the team because a broken foot suffered during his junior season forced him to take a medical redshirt.

But seven six before that, Lighty was a promising athlete at Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph whose star was shining as brightly on the gridiron as it was on the hardwood. And as he put the finishing touches on his freshman year, Lighty found himself being recruited by the Buckeyes to play both sports.

It was Mel Tucker, current Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator and former Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator, who handled his recruitment for the football team. According to Tucker, it was imperative that OSU get in on Lighty because of VASJ's recent history.

"There had been a history of guys from his high school going to Michigan with Elvis Grbac and Desmond Howard," Tucker told "He was obviously a good player and Michigan was already recruiting him and possibly had offered him."

In addition, the coach pointed out that Penn State had been actively recruiting northeast Ohio as well, further making it important that the Buckeyes identify potential recruiting targets at a young age. As a result, Lighty said, the Buckeyes issued him a verbal scholarship offer to play football. His mother still has letters he received from LSU, Florida, Oklahoma and other schools expressing interest in his abilities as a wide receiver, he said.

Recruiting access to freshmen and sophomores is limited, Tucker said, so his direct contact with Lighty was minimal. As such, his efforts to get to know the youngster primarily were aimed at those in the community who knew Lighty.

What he learned was promising, Tucker said.

"I do remember actually seeing him but not talking to him and seeing that he had good size and all that," he said. "I knew some people who went to the same church as his parents or something like that and they said he was a good kid, a hard worker."

Although he does not appear in any major football recruiting databases, Lighty said he was among the top early prospects in a class that also included eventual OSU running back Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"I was one and he was two, actually, my freshman and sophomore year," Lighty said. "Then he was probably ahead of me. Football has been in my blood for a while. I miss it a lot, but other than that I'm happy about playing basketball."

It was not until after his sophomore season that Lighty gave up his football career. It was a potential position change, not a decreasing love of the game, that led him to hang up his cleats.

"They wanted me to play quarterback the next year and all of our offensive line was leaving," he said. "Our biggest lineman was like 5-10, 180 pounds and I'm like, ‘I don't want to be a quarterback with that offensive line. If I get hurt, I can't play basketball.' "

The plan was to sit out his junior season and perhaps return to action as a senior, but a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered at the end of his basketball season that season scuttled any future football plans.

OSU head basketball coach Thad Matta said he never saw Lighty play football in person but that one of his assistants did.

"I know that he's always messing around, running patterns after practice and catching basketballs and that sort of thing," he said, adding that Lighty often has had a football when the team has been to Matta's house during the summer.

Tucker would leave OSU's staff following the 2004 season, which would have been Lighty's junior season, to take a job with the NFL's Cleveland Browns. Now preparing to start his third season with the Jaguars after spending four years in Cleveland, Tucker said he has enjoyed watching his former recruit develop on the hardwood.

"He's just really been a model teammate, player, student and athlete for the university, so I'm really proud with what I've seen him do from afar," he said. "What people told me about what kind of person he was early in the process, it seems like he has grown into that and more.

"From what I can tell, he seems to have great leadership ability. Even though they have a top (NBA) draft pick on the team (in Jared Sullinger) just like it was when he was there as a freshman (with Greg Oden), he has emerged as one of the best players on that team and one of the best players in the Big Ten. From what I can tell it's because he has tremendous character, he has a tremendous work ethic and he's a leader and a team player."

Now listed at 6-5, 220 pounds, the forward possesses a blend of size and speed that would make him a tough matchup out wide on the gridiron. Today he will be honored along with fellow seniors Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale prior to OSU's home contest against Wisconsin.

Had he gone the football route, Lighty would have been just as successful as he has been in basketball, OSU football coach Jim Tressel said.

"David Lighty has been an extraordinary college basketball player; with his importance to the Buckeyes, it is hard to envision him as anything else," he said. "Yet he could have been a difference-maker in football as well, in large part because of his competitiveness and unselfishness."

Said Lighty: "I just want to score a touchdown in (Ohio Stadium) and hear 100,000 people go crazy."

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