Coach's Corner: George's Odyssey To '95 Heisman

Bill Conley returns for his second season as an OSU football analyst for Today, the former OSU recruiting coordinator recounts the long and winding road Eddie George took to get to Ohio State as well as his rise to the 1995 Heisman Trophy.

EDITOR'S NOTE – Bucknuts Media Network is proud to welcome back Bill Conley for his second season of providing OSU football and recruiting analysis. Conley spent 17 years as an assistant coach at OSU. In most of those years, he doubled as OSU's recruiting coordinator. Conley will contribute columns and host Chat sessions for subscribers throughout the season.

Here is his first column of the new season:

Ohio State's 2005 football season will begin exactly one month from today as the Buckeyes host Miami (Ohio) in their Sept. 3 season opener. We will have plenty of time between now and then to preview that game and the season in general.

However, I wanted to take the time today to celebrate a major accomplishment in OSU football history that happened 10 years ago. It's my feeling that after reading some of these recollections and thoughts you, like me, will be even more ready for the 2005 season to get under way.

I was on the practice field during the 1991 season at Ohio State. At that time, I was coaching the defensive ends. One of our student trainers comes up to me and says, "Coach Conley, do you know anything about this kid who plays at my high school?"

The trainer said he was from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. I said, no, I had not heard of anybody from that school. I asked him who the player was.

He replied, "His name is Eddie George. He's a running back but he also plays some on defense."

The student trainer said he'd get me the contact information and see me the next day. I didn't think anything of it and I went back to work.

The next morning, it's 8 a.m. and the student trainer knocks on my door. He gave me the information. I'm thinking I'll call the coach and see what's up with this kid.

I call the coach up. I say, "Coach Shuman …"

Before I can say anything else, I hear, "Capt. Shuman, Fork Union Military Academy, sir!"

I say, "OK, Capt. Shuman, I understand you have a player there by the name of Eddie George."

Shuman: "Yes sir."

Conley: "Is he a pretty good player?"

Shuman: "Yes sir."

Conley: "Is he being recruited by anybody?"

Shuman: "Yes sir."

Conley: "Who has been in contact with him?"

Shuman: "Louisville has offered him, sir."

So I ask the captain to send me a video of Eddie George.

Eddie George from his Fork Union days

Now you have to remember at a place like Ohio State, we used to get about 2,500 videotapes a year. We relied on high school coaches to send us tapes of their players who they thought could play at the Big Ten level.

But too often we got tapes of kids who we just could not even consider. I was concerned that would be the case here. I figured I would get the tape, watch five or six plays and turn it off and that would be it for Mr. George.

The next day I come after practice and the tape is on my desk. I pop it into the machine. I see Eddie George for the first time. Here he is, probably 6-2, 210 pounds. Boom, he runs over a guy. Boom, he runs around a guy for a big gain. Boom, he runs over another guy. That happens play after play.

I was right – I watched five or six plays and I turned the machine off. But it was for a different reason – he was amazing.

I went right back over to the phone and called Fork Union.

I say, "Coach Shuman …"

Before I can say anything else, I hear, "Capt. Shuman, Fork Union Military Academy, sir!"

I say, "OK, Capt. Shuman, this is Coach Conley from Ohio State. I got the videotape of Eddie George and I was impressed. I think we might like to get him up for a visit. Who else is recruiting him?"

Shuman: "I told you before. Louisville."

Conley: "OK, OK. Is there any way I can talk to him?"

Shuman: "Yes, our players accept recruiting calls on Monday nights between 7-9 p.m."

So I waited until the following Monday and I called Eddie up during the designated time. I asked him who else had offered him. He said just Louisville. I couldn't believe it. I told him we wanted to get him to come up for a visit in December.

Meanwhile, I go into Coach Cooper's office and I tell him I've got a tape he has to see. He says, "Where's he from?"

I said, "Fork Union Military Academy."

Cooper: "Where's that?"

Conley: "In Virginia."

Cooper: "Oh … who else is recruiting him?"

Conley: "Well, coach, Louisville …"

Cooper: "Louisville?"

Conley: "Yeah, Coach, pretty much just Louisville. But I think he's a guy who can help us."

Coach Cooper looked at the tape and agreed. We set the visit up with Eddie for December. I would call him back each week and we'd go through the same routine. I'd ask who had been recruiting him. He would always say Louisville.

That is, until November rolled around.

I asked him and this time he says, "Well, Coach, Louisville and now also Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame."

I thought, "Doggone it. They've found him."

But we go ahead and we get Eddie to come and visit us. Here comes Eddie down the ramp at the airport. And right behind him was … his mother, Donna.

Now, doing this for many years, I am used to questions from parents. But Donna George was something different. She had questions about everything – the academics, the academic support, the graduation rate and everything else under the sun.

Now it should be noted that Eddie grew up in Abington, Pa., just outside Philadelphia. As I recall, he wasn't a bad kid. But he was growing up in a single-parent home. His mom worked some as a model and some as a flight attendant. She decided the best place for Eddie to get his education and the discipline he needed was at Fork Union Military Academy. So she enrolled him there.

OK, the visit weekend comes off reasonably well. But his mom just didn't seem sold. Before we leave for the airport, Coach Cooper wants to know where we stand. I tell him, "I don't know. She's had questions about everything all weekend long. I don't know if we're going to get him or not."

I was also concerned that Eddie would go on visits to the other schools like Michigan, Penn State and Notre Dame and they would wow him. I told him to keep Ohio State and the time he had during this visit at the front of his thoughts as he took those other visits. But, just as he boarded the plane to go home, he shocked me.

He said, "Coach Conley, I want to be a Buckeye."

I said, "Is your mom OK with that decision?"

She came over and said, "Yes, I'm OK with it. But I want you take care of my son when he's at Ohio State."

The rest, of course, was history. But it was far from easy for Eddie George.

Eddie George had the greatest season of any OSU running back when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1995.

If you remember, when he got to Ohio State we had some pretty good running backs with Robert Smith, Raymont Harris and Butler By'not'e. And during his freshman year, Eddie had a couple of fumbles in a rough loss at home to Illinois.

But he kept working hard and, by the time he was a senior, he was the man. He had the greatest season any running back has ever had at Ohio State and, at the time, maybe in all of college football. With him running the ball, we defeated Washington, Notre Dame and Penn State.

But when it came time to play Illinois, this was when he gained his revenge. It was a terrible day weather-wise with an ice storm and we were playing an Illini defense that featured future pros like Simeon Rice and Kevin Hardy. But Eddie had the game of his life. He rushed for a school-record 314 yards and we finally got past Illinois. The final score that day was 41-3.

A little over a month later, Eddie George was Ohio State's latest Heisman Trophy winner.

One part of this story a lot of people have forgotten or don't know about is that Eddie wanted his mom to be with him in Houston when he signed his first professional contract with the NFL's Houston Oilers. But Donna's work schedule with the airlines conflicted with the date to sign the deal. She had a flight scheduled to Europe and was going to miss it. But Eddie begged her to come to Houston for the signing.

Donna was able to trade that flight with somebody else. That flight was TWA Flight 800 that blew up over New York.

But Donna was where she was supposed to be – with her son. And he would not have gotten there to that day and to that place in his life or his football career without her. She was the one that made sure he got the education and the discipline he needed growing up. She sacrificed so much for him. You could say that fate saved her life that night.

That is just another great piece of the Ohio State football tradition. The 2005 team is preparing to write another chapter beginning Sept. 3. Who knows, maybe somebody on this team will join George and the rest of OSU's past Heisman winners by earning his way to New York.

Whatever happens this figures to be another exciting year.

Bill Conley's first Chat session for the 2005 football season will be at 3 p.m. Mon., Aug. 15. Check back that day for access information. We'll see you then!

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