Job Fair Puts Buckeyes On Track For Future

Much of what the Ohio State football program does in the offseason is about preparing the players for life after football, and that focus is summed up by the annual job fair instituted by Urban Meyer and his staff. For one former player, the program is already paying dividends.

There have been plenty of success stories since Urban Meyer became the head coach at Ohio State – an undefeated campaign and a school-record 24 straight wins speaks to that – but many in the program can point to one player as one of the best examples of what Buckeye football can produce.

That person is Zach Domicone.

The safety and special teams star didn't make as big an impact on the field as some at Ohio State, finishing his career in 2012 with 23 tackles and a blocked punt return for a touchdown in 2010.

When his career was over, the NFL did not come calling, putting him in the same boat as most players who suit up to play college football – on the outside looking in at the sport that had been such a big part of his life.

"A year ago I had done my Pro Day, I got some interest from some teams, and I had some opportunities to play professionally – not in the league I wanted, obviously," Domicone said. "I was kind of lost a bit. Some opportunities started to come, but they weren't necessarily what I wanted."

A lifeline came over last summer when the Ohio State football program hosted its first job fair. Companies from across central Ohio and the country arrived on campus to meet with Buckeye gridders and athletes from the rest of OSU's varsity sports about potential job opportunities.

Near the end of the event, Domicone saw a table for The Limited Brands, the Fortune 500 fashion and apparel company based in Columbus and run by Les Wexner. Domicone left a résumé with the company representatives, interviewed shortly thereafter, and within a week of that he was hired as an operations supervisor overseeing 20 employees.

That's exactly what Meyer had in mind when he and his staff began the job fair.

"I love this," the head coach said. "I spend more than half my time on this right now. I love it. I think about how my daughter went to school and how hard it is to get a job, and Ohio State is such a powerful place. This place, if you do it right, you should get a job. The guy that really works and does it right, people want to hire him, so it's our job to get in front of them."

Domicone's example shows just that – and serves as a reminder of what is possible through the Ohio State program.

"You sit back and think about that, not only at Ohio State are we trying to create the best football player, but we're also molding the best person that you can be," senior offensive lineman Joel Hale said. "Yeah, you're getting the football stuff – you're getting the best lifts, you're getting the best runs, you're getting everything the best. They are also thinking about how you can be the best person once you leave campus, which is huge.

"I didn't really think about it until Zach Domicone came and talked to us for Real Life Wednesday. That guy, he followed every step to everything that is provided here, and look at him now – working a job at the Limited Brands. That's a big deal, you know?"

A Major Chance
The companies present at this year's job fair – held last Friday in Ohio Stadium's Huntington Club – reads like a who's who of top employers. ESPN, Nike, IMG, Chase Bank, Net Jets, Giant Eagle, Kroger State Farm, the FBI, Buffalo Wild Wings and the Cleveland Browns were among the more than 50 businesses present, and one Nike rep told BSB that this event was unique compared to the recruiting functions the company typically sends representatives to across the nation.

But one business that should have stood out to the Ohio State players was the Oswald Companies. Located in downtown Columbus across from Huntington Park, the insurance brokerage employs perhaps the perfect example of preparing for life after football in Kirk Barton.

The All-Big Ten offensive lineman and four-year starter from 2004-07 at OSU was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2008 and spent time with five NFL teams before retiring. He then worked on the OSU staff through the 2012 season before joining Oswald.

His story shows the stark reality of life at the highest level of professional football – even those who have significant success in college and then spend time in the NFL could still find themselves looking for a job well before reaching 30.

"It's never too early to start working on your Plan B," Barton said after the job fair. "The thing guys have to realize is when you're 28, you have to go to work, and it's not like you're going to make a big sum of money (in the NFL) where you can just sit around and not do anything for the next 40 years of your life.

"I try to tell these guys, take tonight seriously. Look the part, dress the part, ask good questions, act interested."

That's very similar to the advice given out by Domicone, who spoke to the team two weeks prior at the weekly Real Life Wednesday chat. Instituted by Meyer, the speaker series brings in a variety of experts from February through June to lecture the OSU players on everything from breaking into their career fields to budgeting to paying taxes.

"That was a little bit of the message I delivered when I went and spoke to the team," Domicone said. "A lot of it was my testament to what the program did for me, and then I went into how important the career fair was. Whether you're a freshman or you're a senior, it doesn't matter. To develop those relationships and get that experience is crucial, so it was something I spoke to them about.

"I broke it all the way down to the handshakes, the eye contact, the dress, how to approach companies, things like that. We had a really good conversation on that when I spoke to the team and I went into what I do, and I sold it well because everyone thinks my job is pretty cool."

Important Focus
Meyer has a rule on the Ohio State football team that is likely unique to the program.

"Before your junior year, you can't play unless you have a working résumé," the head coach said at the job fair. "You see them walking around handing out résumés, handing out business cards, that's how they start their network system. We're going to take it a step further this year with the unit leaders. Because we give them iPads, we're going to actually teach them how to physically send an email out to Nike or whatever."

With that focus from the head coach, it's no wonder the career fair is serious business. The impact has spread even deeper than Domicone, as well. Starting left tackle Taylor Decker picked up an internship with the Columbus Zoo last year and got to work on the promotions team with baby animals, not to mention the time he got to spend with Columbus celebrity Jack Hanna.

"It's huge because there's business executives coming in here that you wouldn't get to see unless you're deep into an interview process, and they're out here because they want to give us an opportunity," Decker said. "I got an internship because of last year's job fair, so I was able to put that into effect for myself. Football is always going to end."

And even for those who do make it to the pros, football isn't necessarily always going to be there. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett is projected by some to be a first-round pick in next year's draft, but he knows the average NFL career doesn't last past four years.

"You have to have something after that," he said. "People always ask me, ‘What are you going to do after football?' I'm trying to find something I'm passionate about. I have 80 years left to live, hopefully, and after football I might have 65 left. So my plan is to get my name out there, talk to some people, find out what I like and what I would like to build a career out of, not just a job."

It's a pathway Domicone followed perfectly last year, and the Buckeyes following in his footsteps are attempting to do the same.

"Now that Zach talked about it, the pathway is a lot more visible to me and how it works, so it makes this year's job fair a lot easier for me on how to make the connections," Hale said. "I pray on my knees every night that the NFL is going to work out, but if it doesn't, I have to have my Plan B ready to roll."


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