People may cringe when they see the word Cleveland, but the one thing they cannot deny is that the city has produced some outstanding high school football players who went on to play at Ohio State.
Heisman Trophy quarterback Troy Smith and teammate Ted Ginn Jr. both came out of Cleveland Glenville, to name a few.
This year, Clevelanders have made an impact on the Ohio State team as well.
Sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker started the last 11 games of the regular season and played in all 12 after junior linebacker Dante Booker strained two ligaments in his knee in the season opener vs. Bowling Green.
The Buckeye defense didn’t miss a beat with Baker in the lineup. The Benedictine product is second on the team with 79 tackles, 8½ being tackles for loss and 3½ being sacks. He only trails junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan’s team-leading 87 stops.
Baker has a pair of key interceptions as well. He returned the first one 68 yards for a touchdown at Oklahoma to give the Buckeyes a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter.
His second theft occurred against Michigan in the third quarter, and set up a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Mike Weber to pull Ohio State within three points of the Wolverines.
Baker is not the only native of Northeast Ohio to make a lasting impression on this season, though.
Junior linebacker Chris Worley, who also went to Glenville, is fourth on the team with 60 tackles, 4½ of which are TFL. His one interception on the year came in a 17-16 win at Michigan State. He had another pick against the Spartans but it did not happen during open play and therefore it is not recognized as an official stat.
MSU scored a touchdown with less than five minutes remaining in the game to make it a 17-16 Ohio State lead. Rather than kick the extra point to tie it, head coach Mark Dantonio elected to go for two to take the lead. Worley was there again, however, to preserve the win.
“It’s big. For a long time, Cleveland has had a huge impact on this university, and it’s good to keep that going,” Worley said Dec. 15. “We’ve got guys from Cleveland making plays and helping this team get to the destination where we want to get, and that’s the biggest thing.”
The 2016 NBA champions Cleveland Cavaliers came to Columbus midway through the regular season to meet the Buckeyes and allow them to take photos with the championship trophy.
Baker said that was a poignant moment for he and his teammates that are from the Cleveland area.
“When the Cavs came, we made sure everybody knew that it’s Cleveland vs. everybody else,” Baker said. “But on the field, you don’t really notice that. But any chance we get in the locker room, we do represent that we’re from Cleveland.”
Baker went on to explain that there is a unique sense of pride in those who are from the Northeast Ohio city.
“When you were born there, the toughness you need to be from Cleveland,” Baker said. “Just that toughness you have that hunger you have. Just coming from Cleveland, you (would) understand if you were from there.
“It’s Cleveland. If you’re from Cleveland or Northeast Ohio, you just know. It’s Cleveland vs. everybody.”