Everyone's got a story to tell. Some stories are funny, some are sad, and some (like my life story) would put you to sleep. And some, like the story of Corporal Cliff Reynolds, are uplifting and will put a smile on your face.
Often times, we are told to follow our dreams. It is not uncommon to see a famous person get on television and tell people that if you work hard, you can achieve anything. We hear that so many times that it almost sounds cliche, but too many examples exist proving that saying for one to say it is false. The following story is one such example.
Cliff Reynolds comes from the heart of Buckeye country in Lancaster, Ohio, which is located Southeast of Columbus. Cliff played high school football at Lancaster High School, which is the same school that produced incoming Buckeye freshman Bobby Carpenter.
"Bobby was a freshman when I was a senior," Cliff said. "Funny how things workout."
Cliff did a lot on the field during his high school football career. We asked him to give some stats from high school, and he couldn't remember everything, but he gave us some good stuff nonetheless.
"It's hard to recall some stats from then but I'll try," he wrote. "My sophomore year, I played DB and WR but we had a strong senior class so playing time was hard to come by. My junior year I started at OLB but no offense because my thumbs were broke the whole season. I can say without a second thought that I had over a hundred tackles, a tenth of those for loss. I had one blocked field goal, an interception returned for a touchdown (50 yards) and received a couple player of the games, week, county.
"My senior year I was selected by my peers as captain of our team. I started out the year at MLB for the first 5 games. I recorded 48 tackles, 4 for a loss and also played TE and FB. The last 5 I was moved to DE because of an injury at that position and we didn't have much of a pass rush. I recorded 6 sacks 68 tackles, 11 for a loss, 3 blocked punts, 3 caused fumbles, 1 blocked field goal, made all conference, selected to the Gridiron Greats (whatever that is) and was selected to the East-West All-Star game. In that game, I started OLB and TE. The 3rd series I dislocated a finger and the coach said I was needed more at TE. I had 3 catches for 78 yards and was game MVP. Of course it's easier to remember my senior year, but it gets harder the further you go back. I guess I'm just old!"
Football is something that Cliff has always loved, so wanting to play again seemed natural.
"It's just born in you," he said. "I started playing football as early as I can remember. Kindergarten I believe, out on recess. As soon as you can get somewhat of an organized game. Then from there I had older sisters and older neighbors. We'd go down to the local park and I'd beg to play. At some points I'd hold my own, and then at others I'd be walking home crying with blood pouring out of some cut. I started playing flag in 4th grade then moved to pee-wee (tackle) in 5th. I was getting my butt kicked the first year, the grade level was 5-7th. I was pretty small then. From there I just played until where I am now, still playing, in the Marine Corps."
Joining the Marines
Cliff Reynolds had opportunities to go to college after playing football at Lancaster, but he didn't seize them and elected to go into the Marines instead. Why?
"That question I've heard about everyday of my military career," he said. "I can't really pinpoint an answer but I remember my father saying something to me that stuck. He said 'You better choose your future before it chooses you.' With that I mean I was offered football scholarships that really didn't tempt me. I didn't feel that camaraderie like I did with my high school team, you know, the "I'm willing to sacrifice everyting, I'm going to do my part." They were all there by default it seemed. The academics, well, I wasn't the best student, I wasn't the worst student... I just did what I had to, which is wrong, I know now. Pretty much it was hard to pass by to play football, but I couldn't make a decision because of what I said above, and I couldn't see myself going somewhere and not playing, so time was dragging on and on. I had to make a decision before I was stuck somewhere because I couldn't. Does that make sense? Pretty much it's a choice NOT to stay in my home town, or do construction, or whatever. Choose your future before it chose you."
Being in the Marines has meant that this Cliff, who is 21 years old now and will turn 22 during this season, has seen and done more in his time than the majority of people his age.
"Well, Marine Corps boot camp was enough of an experience to last a lifetime, but that's a story of it's own," Cliff said. The military in general is full of experiences. Not many people get to fire machine guns, artillery, rifles, throw grenades, repel off 100 ft walls... It's a good time. It's a child's fantasy, except the weapons are real. I've been everywhere in the U.S.A.; I asked to go to Japan, but I was denied."
Currently, Cpl. Reynolds is stationed in North Carolina, and he won't be the same rank too much longer. "I'm currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.," he said. "It's about 100 miles north of the border of North and South Carolina. I've been a Corporal/E-4 for almost a year. I will be promoted on October 1 of this year.
Whenever someone says "9/11" or "September 11", nothing else needs to be said. Everyone has his or her own thoughts on that day, and everyone can tell the story from their own unique point of view. For Cpl. Reynolds, it was a time of fright and anger.
"The most memorable experience (since joining the Marines) was 11 Sept, 2001. I know it hurt every American in the U.S., but being in the military I believe you have a different sense of hurt and anger. The few days after that was unexplainable. Making wills, setting up power of attorneys. Some people making out their own epitaph. You're scared, but not, in a way. It's like practicing for the game but the game never comes. Well, that day, the U.S. called out for a game and the military was ready. We were all scared but we were ready.
"Talk about camaraderie. You will never find a closer knit (family) like the Marine Corps. I had 61-year old man come up to me at the L.A. airport because I was in my uniform and offered to buy me a steak dinner. I of course denied and thanked him but he wouldn't take that answer in a second. He said he was a retired Marine and he was going to buy me dinner. Well, he did, and you know the cost of airport restaurants. I haven't experienced as much as most but I have enough to remember the rest of my life. Mostly the men I've met."
The Next Step
Along the way, Cpl. Reynolds decided to try and be a Buckeye. Since he had football in his blood, this just seemed like the next step to take. "What do you do when your in junior high? You go the the varsity games," he said. "You can't wait to get there. You stare at the field and just imagine. There is no question, if you're a football nut, that being on the varsity team is the main goal and with Lancaster being so close to Columbus, there is no question it's just the next step."
Despite living in Lancaster, Cliff had never been to an OSU game until this year. He took in the San Diego State game and loved what he saw. And later, he had a chance to stand in the Horseshoe with a teammate.
"The people that love Buckeye football, it's wonderful. It's hard to watch football games in the stands for me. The first OSU game I watched was last year against San Diego St I believe and I couldn't believe the vibe there. Every single person there had one feeling, love for Buckeye football.
"Then to top it off I went to a Spring Practice with Bobby (Carpenter) and stood on the field. This was all before I made my decision, so now there is no question, that I have to do this."
But getting to where he is now was more than that for Cliff. He had work to do, both physically and mentally.
"First, I think convincing myself was a big step," he said. "How many people go skydiving for the first time by themselves? Not too many, and I knew this was going to be a bigger challenge than just jumping out of an airplane. It's always better with someone beside you, but I didn't have that."
Once he decided to go for it, he started to get to work, and it wasn't easy.
"The workouts and running/conditioning is all on my own," Reynolds said. "When I made my mind up that it's Buckeye football or nothing, I started working out hours upon hours to get my physical characteristics where they needed to be to be able to compete or even be looked at seriously as a Big Ten prospect. I wasn't that far off when I started this journey, but I don't want to be looked at as a hitting dummy. I know I'll have to work for everything I get, but going in there with some domineering attributes will not hurt also. "
Staying Persistent and taking 'baby steps'
The next step was to get his name out there and let it be known that he wanted to be a Buckeye.
"When I felt I was at a point where I could be taken seriously I started contacting everyone I possibly could," he said. "Anyone from coaches, scouts and recruiting gurus. I even e-mailed Coach Tressel and Coach Dantonio, which meant I probably skipped the whole chain of authority, but I felt I needed to be heard. Coach Dantonio was the only one to reply from the Buckeyes, but pretty much said in so many words, 'thanks for the interest but contact us after your out of the military.' It was a knife in the stomach, but I carried on."
Cliff Reynolds did carry on, although the disappointment caused him to keep his options open. "I just had to play football so I kept on writing everyone I could," he said. "In the following weeks I was contacted by Oregon, Penn St., ECU and Notre Dame, some from coaches, some from guys that keep web sites, like yourself."
However, a mention of that school up north got Cpl. Reynolds refocused on his true goal. However, once again, he was unsuccessful.
"One day a buddy of mine said 'why don't you send your info to Michigan,'" Cliff said. "I answered quickly with a derogatory remark and then I remembered why I started this whole thing. Yes, love for the game was the main reason, but once I had that scarlet taste in my mouth, I couldn't even imagine being a Duck, Nittany Lion, Pirate or a god awful Wolv#@$! So I started all over with the OSU Staff and again I was shut down."
Still, Cpl. Reynolds did not give up, and he decided to show his desire to play.
"People have a hard time understanding the military and I had a lot of problems with reasons saying 'we don't want to step where we shouldn't,' from many people," he said. "So one day I wrote Coach Dantonio, saying that I was going up to watch a spring scrimmage and that was the best way for me to let him know how I felt about playing for the Buckeyes. So I drove 10 hours one Friday to watch a practice. It was in the shoe and I was with Bobby (Carpenter). I watched the whole scrimmage hoping I'd get a chance to introduce myself. Well, the time came, Coach Dantonio came up to Bobby to say 'hello' and he must have saw my name tag with the school I was from saying USMC. He came up to me and asked if I was the Marine, and I said 'yes sir.' So we had a conversation and he asked for me to send some film on myself."
That's not all. While on the trip, Cpl. Reynolds experienced an unexpected meeting.
"I was very happy I made that trip," he said. "I drove 20 hours in 2 days, but it was worth every mile. That's not all though; when I was walking out of the stadium, (Coach Dantonio) caught up with me and told me to follow him. So I did, and after a second I realized I was going to see The Man, Coach Tressel. I was filled with emotion so I did what any man would do, go back to his roots, yes sir, there I was at Parade Rest (military stance when speaking to a superior) talking to Coach Tressel. Afterwards I realized what an idiot I must of looked like."
"Anyways, to say the least I was very pleased with the way it went. So I went back to North Carolina and made a short highlight tape along with a single game and a week later, I made the drive again. This time it was the practice before the Spring Scrimmmage, so there was all these people there and coaches. After the practice, I ran up to Coach Dantonio and spoke with him a bit and he said the film would dictate what would happen. He took my number and that was that. I told him that I hope the film would be a representation of myself but not a direct one because it was 3 years ago."
And so it was done, and it would seemingly rest on this tape. The wait was long, but it proved to be worth it.
"So I went home, to North Carolina, again and just waited," Cpl. Reynolds said. "Let me tell you how long those days went by. Well, about a month later, I get a call from Coach Dantonio. He said he sat down with Coach Snyder and they were pleasantly impressed with the film. He told me to get my academics in line and he was looking forward to seeing me.
"Through the whole thing I told myself 'take baby-steps.' Don't imagine the finish line; to this day I don't imagine it. The finish line is the glory, but the race is the guts, and I ask myself everyday, 'do I have the guts to do what I have to do to achieve my goal, my dream?' I asked myself at the end of everyday 'Did I do everything I could today to be one step closer to being a Buckeye?' It was hard because I had about 2 handfuls of supporters. Friends, peers and old coaches said "it's not possible," or 'don't shoot too high' and 'how about Youngstown St?' Who ever heard of that, don't shoot too high and dream small? I just want to thank Duane Long. He was one of a few that backed me up. He did a lot for me."
Cliff now has his foot in the door. He plans on being there for the start of spring practice in 2003. Naturally, fans will want to know what he brings to the table.
"I'm 6'3", weigh on average 235 (it's hard to keep steady weight with all the field operations, I've weighed as heavy as 248, last winter) and I average a 4.48 at the 40 yard dash," he wrote. "Last night my fastest time was 4.4. I try to keep all my stats up to date each month- Bench-360, Squat-490, Hang Clean-345, Vertical Leap-34 in, 20yd agility- 4.4 sec, 10yd dash- 1.0 sec. Each of these are after a run of anywhere from 1.5-3.0 miles and recorded by my Platoon Sergeant, if there is any reason for doubt."
Those statistics and measurements are identical to the type you want to see out of an outside linebacker prospect, but Cliff just wants to help the team. "I believe I'll be playing WLB," he said, "but if there is anywhere they want me at, I will fill the spot to my fullest, (waterboy, 3rd string Center.)"
Cpl. Reynolds will not be on scholarship, but he seems to be all set financially anyway. "I won't be a scholarship player," he said. "We really didn't talk about why. It's the answer I got and that's all I needed. I will not have to worry about money though, the military is paying my way, I have a $50,000 college fund and a $20,000 bill that come to me, the last being put right into my personal account."
He also thinks he already has his major selected as well. "I think I'll be majoring in Criminology, he said. "I have family history in that field and with all the military experience I feel it's that best way for me. The smoothest path."
So what does he expect when he gets to OSU? What have the coaches told him? "Just that college football is a whole new beast," he said. "The bar is raised on everything. Everything I earn I'll have to work for. I've had conversations with Coach Dantonio and spoke with Coach Tressel, they both had things to say but I'd like for everyone to have their own opinions. All the things I said above are standards, I'd believe. I think Coach Tressel has upped everyone's standards that had to deal with Buckeye football in anyway. I have a little slogan for the team up north: 'Buckeye Football- we've upped our standards, so up yours!'"
Age and Experiences
Cliff Reynolds, needless to say, is not your everyday college football player. He has a background unlike any other player for the Buckeyes. One of the more fascinating things to consider regarding Cliff's future is how his age and experiences will help him (or hinder him), and he has some thoughts on that as well.
"I believe in a competitive sport, age will neither put a person in an advantage or in a disadvantage," he said. "On the field, I think it's a person's character that will put him above or below someone. You have to know what your capable of. Chris Weinke and Kobe Bryant's age neither excelled or hindered their playing.
"In the sense of playing or the game of football all together, I'm no different than any high school kid. What is done off the field I guess is where maybe I might have an advantage on some, if any. You have to make sound decisions and have your priorities straight. Wherever you go in life, there is a chain of command or depth chart. Good and bad decisions will reflect how your placed and moved in everything you do.
"I've made my mistakes and have learned. My priorities are to get an education and to play Buckeye football. I guess the only advantage is that I've been through that age and those choices that some of those guys will have to make."
Cpl. Reynolds is also not sure if what he has learned from the Marine Corps will be an advantage.
"I have learned and have many characteristics form the Marine Corps that those guys will not have," he said. "Whether or not that is an advantage, I don't think that's my place to say. I think those characteristics will help me out and be at my aid when I need them but an edge, I'm not sure. The Marine Corps' motto- Honor, Courage and Commitment - are characteristics I try to possess, but any good man that's dedicated to something should possess them."
"Many men have strengths and weaknesses, maybe my strength is mental toughness. I think I'll bring that to the table but I hope I'm not the single provider. The Marine Corps is mostly mental toughness. I'm sure there are guys that lift more or run faster than I do, but I believe with everything mental toughness plays at least a small part. I know the limits the brain puts on itself and the body, I know how to go beyond that. There are no limits, cannots and being tired. If you can walk, you can run."
Comparisons and Improvements
One of the things we often want to find out from recruits is how they describe themselves as a player and person as it will give us a better idea what to expect. We asked Cliff the same questions, and it sounds like we can expect a winner.
"How I'd describe myself as a person and a player are the same," he said. "I'm a perfectionist. I might not be perfect but I'll die trying. Everything I do is to my max, whether it's a pick up game of basketball or playing thumb war. I hate to lose. In life, I want no regrets. I don't want to look back when I'm forty and ask myself, 'did I give everything I have?'
In football there is camaraderie. It's all about pride and the man next to you. That's your family. I'm not a man to let my family down. I'm going to do everything that's asked of me and do it to my max. I find it hard to compare myself to someone. I ask myself how can I stand myself next to someone that's achieved what I haven't.
"I believe I have traits from many players that are known. I know that I'm willing to sacrifice everything and that I have an unrelentless demeanor like Dick Butkus, (he's my football idol.) I know I have a love for Ohio State Football that's unexplainable; that's why my friends have compared me to "Rudy". I know I love the game of football like Vince Lombardi loved to coach it and that I have the pride in the OSU Football program like the thousands of fans that are at the game every week because that's what I am, a fan."
Cpl. Reynolds has come all this way, but there is still work to be done and improvements to be made.
"There is always something you can work on," he said. "Nothing is perfect. I will never stop trying to get bigger, stronger, faster and have a overall better knowledge of the game. The Buckeyes run a 4-3 defense which I'm familiar with but I think out of everything I need to be more proficient on the steps, reads and the overall defense. You can run like the wind and hit like an ox, but if you can't make your reads and play your role in the defense, you might as well be playing your role of 103,000 in the stands."
Cpl. Cliff Reynolds has been through quite a journey, and in a way, it may be just beginning. The football and college career to come will be the next chapter. But he has some advice and words of wisdom for everyone out there to consider.
"Never, ever lose your passion to dream," he said. "Everything is achievable. The only limits in life is the ones you put on yourself. I have two quotes that have inspired me and pretty much answers this question. A good friend that has supported me from the beginning gave me them."
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
The greatest sadness is not in trying and failing, but in failing to try.
We are looking forward to seeing Cliff Reynolds put on an OSU uniform for the first time in the Spring of 2003.
Special thanks to Cliff for the interview!