Urban Meyer, Ohio State Fight Against MD

Saturday is Coach to Cure MD weekend across college football, but few programs around the nation will have as personal a connection to Duchenne's muscular dystrophy as Ohio State, which has welcomed the Studebaker family into the football program over the past 14 months.

It didn’t used to be personal to Urban Meyer.

This is the seventh Coach to Cure MD weekend, the one game on each team’s college football schedule in which coaches put on gear with a large blue-and-green patch to raise awareness toward the fight against Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

And for the first few years he took part, Meyer simply put on his coach’s jacket with the patch because that’s what hundreds of college football coaches around the country will do.

“For years we have been asked to wear a patch, and I'm not a fan of sticking patches on shoulders,” the Ohio State head coach said Monday. “Duchenne muscular dystrophy research is why the coaches do this. And to be honest, I didn't know much about it. I (wore the patch) because I was told to do it.”

All that changed at Friday Night Lights last year. Meyer was on the sideline getting ready to coach and recruit some of the top prospects in the country when he was introduced to Jacob, then a 13-year-old from nearly Delaware, Ohio, suffering from the disorder. Duchenne’s MD is a gene mutation that causes a progressive loss of muscular function; those suffering from the disorder are usually diagnosed as children, in a wheelchair by their teen years and have a life expectancy of around 25.

That’s the pattern that has affected Jacob, who was diagnosed at 4 and had been wheelchair-bound for two years when he attended Friday Night Lights last year as a guest of the family of recruit Kyle Trout.

By the end of the event, there was a standing invitation for Jacob and his brother, Noah, who is also affected by the disorder, to come to Ohio State practice any time, and they have. The two can be seen around the fields at least once a week and have developed relationships with the players on the team, most notably Jeff Heuerman, Joshua Perry and former OSU corner Bradley Roby. Heuerman and members of the OSU tight end unit went so far as to volunteer their time at the Duchenne Dash 5K in July.

“The best part is coming to practice every day and seeing the players and getting high fives,” said Jacob, a dedicated OSU fan whose bedroom is adorned with Buckeye Fathead stickers. “After practice is over, they come up and say hi. They’re real guys.”

Such generosity has come somewhat as a shock to his father, Chad Studebaker.

“I am taken aback, honestly, that somebody like Urban would just take a look at Jacob and take an interest and start building a relationship,” Studebaker said. “There’s nothing for Urban to gain, and there’s so much for him to give, and he’s taken the time. I get emotional because here’s this little kid who can’t do much, and somebody is giving kindness to him.

“There are some great kids on this team, and you get to know the character and you build relationships, and I’m really proud of this organization and the university. I’ve always been a Buckeye fan, but it’s a quality organization.”

And it all started thanks to Meyer. Come Saturday, the annual Coach to Cure MD day, the patch on his trademark white OSU windbreaker when the Buckeyes take on Cincinnati will be there for more than show.

“I have become close with two members of our team, I consider them, Noah and Jacob, who are stricken with this disease, and we love them to death, so we're going to do some special things for those guys this week, and I ask for everybody to get involved,” Meyer said. “There are so many great things to get involved in, but this hit home now that I – I never knew really very much about the disease, and I do now. These two young people that are at our practices almost every day, and they're very close with us.”

Both kids are expected to take part in the pregame coin toss as honorary captains, and the hope from the family is that the day will help draw attention to what is still an incurable disease.

“We’re about getting attention to MD,” Chad said. “Our goal is to bring awareness so we can raise funds and we can find a cure. The life expectancy is to the mid-20s, so we’re pushing hard within their lifetime to find a cure.”

Football fans can donate to Duchenne muscular dystrophy research by either going online to www.CoachtoCureMD.org or by texting the word CURE to 90999 (a $5 donation will automatically be added to your next phone bill).

Fans can also visit The Little Hercules Foundation, a foundation started by the family and a few others to raise money to cure MD.

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