Born Feb. 11, 1949, in Mount Vernon, Ohio, Stillwagon was an afterthought in the storied recruiting class of 1967 that features such stars Rex Kern, Jack Tatum, John Brockington and Mike Sensibaugh.
"It sounds funny to say now," Stillwagon wrote in the book What It Means To Be A Buckeye, "but … I didn't like Ohio State. My dad went to Notre Dame."
Additionally, although he was a native Ohioan, he was considered an out-of-state prospect because he had been shipped off to Augusta Military School in Fort Defiance, Va.
"I didn't get along with the nuns too well at my school," Stillwagon explained. "But I came home one time to visit my parents and to visit Ohio State."
At the time, the Buckeyes were out of scholarships. But after meeting and talking with the 6-0, 216-pounder, Woody Hayes was persuaded to make room for Stillwagon. Near signing day, another high school prospect suddenly changed his commitment to a different school and Stillwagon had his scholarship.
After winning 14 varsity letters in five different sports at Augusta, Stillwagon fit right in with the "Baby Bucks" freshman team of 1967. He was also one of the strongest players on the team from the time he first set foot on campus – but not because of the OSU strength and conditioning program at that time.
"I remember the program was in the dark ages with weight lifting at that time," he said. "I had to bring my own weights."
In addition to his own weight program, Stillwagon was also a more polished football player than the average 18-year-old. He had amazing agility and used leverage skills at a position that allowed him to move past opposing offensive linemen with greater ease than some of the more lumbering defensive linemen of the day.
When he became eligible to play as a sophomore in 1968, he immediately cracked the starting lineup at middle guard and started nine of the 10 games during that national championship season, missing only the 45-21 win over Northwestern with an injury.
Stillwagon was also part of the OSU defense that effectively shut down Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson of Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl. Simpson broke off an 80-yard touchdown run against the Buckeyes in the second quarter to give his team a 10-0 lead. But the Ohio State defense held him to just 91 yards the rest of the way as they erased the deficit for a 27-16 victory, capturing the national title in the process.
In 1969, the Buckeyes continued their winning ways by claiming eight consecutive opponents to begin the season. But as they made preparations for another trip to Pasadena and a shot at back-to-back national titles, the top-ranked team – which had been No. 1 all season – was upset in Ann Arbor by a Michigan team that was ranked No. 12 in the country at the time.
Despite the fact the Buckeyes had to settle for an 8-1 season, Stillwagon earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and was a consensus All-America choice on defense. Nevertheless, the loss to Michigan simply fueled his fire for his senior season.
Playing mostly middle guard but dropping into a linebacker position on occasion, Stillwagon was the guts of OSU defense in 1970 that allowed nine regular-season opponents just 93 points, many of those against second- and third-stringers after the game was well in hand by halftime. Seven of those teams were limited to one touchdown or less.
But after rolling to a 9-0 record and moving to the No. 2 spot in the national rankings, the Buckeyes fell victim to another No. 12-ranked team – this time, it was Stanford who scored a 27-17 upset in the Rose Bowl.
Despite the disappointment of coming within just a few points of three straight national championships, Stillwagon and his classmates still compiled a record of 27-2, a winning percentage of 93.1. Recognized as a defensive leader, Stillwagon was again a unanimous All-America choice in 1970 and was voted Ohio State's most valuable player by his teammates.
After the season, he became the first-ever winner of the Lombardi Award and later added the Outland Trophy, becoming only the second Buckeye to win that honor. Jim Parker was the first in 1956.
Despite all of his accolades, Stillwagon was only a fifth-round selection in the 1971 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers.
Rumblings about the fact that he was too small to play defensive line in the pros caused his draft-day stock to plummet, but Hayes later told him, "If you would have played middle linebacker instead of middle guard, you would be drafted higher. I want you to know you made a big sacrifice for the team and I appreciate it."
When the Packers did not offer the kind of contact he was looking for, Stillwagon refused to sign with them and bolted for the Canadian Football League instead. He played six seasons with the Toronto Argonauts and was the CFL's defensive player of the year in 1972.
Following his retirement from pro football, Stillwagon returned to the Columbus area where he continues to reside. He is president of Hilliard-based Stillwagon Enterprises, a promotions and awards company that specializes in sports memorabilia, clothing and other related items.
In 1979, Stillwagon was inducted into the OSU Athletics Hall of Fame, joining such other noteworthy former Buckeyes in the class such as Paul Warfield, Jim Houston and basketball player Robin Freeman.
In 1991, Stillwagon was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
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