10 of the Greatest Ohio State University Athletes

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A Brief History

On May 25, 1935, Jesse Owens of Ohio State won 4 events at the Big Ten Conference Track Meet, setting 3 world records and tying a fourth.  What a performance!  Over the years some great athletes have attended Ohio State, and here we list the 10 greatest.

Digging Deeper

10.  Tom Cousineau, Football.

Tom was such a good linebacker that he became the first pick overall in the 1979 NFL Draft.  He had set the OSU season tackles record and the OSU record for tackles in a game, and is still ranked 2nd on the all time career tackles list at OSU.  Tom decided to snub the Buffalo Bills and play in the Canadian Football League, returning to the NFL in 1982 with his hometown Cleveland Browns.  A solid but not spectacular player in the pros, Cousineau did not match his college achievements in the NFL, although he was MVP in Canada in 1979.  Ohio State has produced some outstanding linebackers as well as Cousineau, such as Randy Gradishar (“The best linebacker I ever coached.” Woody Hayes), Chris Spielman, and AJ Hawk.

9.  Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, Football.

A great offensive and defensive player, Cassady was the 1955 Heisman Trophy winner.  In 36 games at OSU, he scored 36 touchdowns.  As a defensive back he never allowed a completed pass during his entire college career!  An excellent baseball player, Cassady led the Buckeyes in home runs in 1955 and in stolen bases in 1956.  He is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

8.  John Havlicek, Basketball.

Called “Hondo” after a John Wayne movie character, Havlicek was the epitome of a team player.  He played on 8 NBA championship teams, more than any other player except Bill Russell and Sam Jones.  He was a member of the same OSU team as Jerry Lucas.  He could play guard as well as forward, and is the Boston Celtics all time career scorer.  Obviously, he also has a spot in the NBA Hall of Fame, as he is considered one of the best players of all time.

7.  Vic Janowicz, Football.

This College Hall of Fame football player won the Heisman Trophy in 1950 as a halfback.  The Polish-Ohioan was much more than that, however, as he threw passes, kicked field goals and extra points, and punted.  Wise opponents did not try to pass on #31 either, as Janowicz also played defensive back.  Interestingly, he chose to play major league baseball instead of pro football, but after 2 years of mediocre performance, he went to the NFL and started at running back for the Redskins until he suffered a serious brain injury in an auto accident, which ended his playing days.  He then became an announcer for Buckeye football.

6.  Blaine Wilson, Gymnastics.

Wilson was named the Big 10 1997 Male Athlete of the Year, the same year he won the Nissen Award (given to college gymnastics best performer each year).  Wilson not only won 5 consecutive national titles, but he also won 5 all around national gymnastics titles as well.  Wilson was on the Mens Silver Medal Olympic team in 2004.  He is now retired.

5.  Katie Smith, Women’s Basketball.

Not only the greatest female basketball player in OSU history, Katie finished her college career as the all time career scoring leader in Big Ten history, male or female.  She went on to a productive professional career and is rated among the top 15 WNBA players of all time (as of 2011).  Katie also earned 3 Olympic Gold Medals in basketball (2000, 2004, 2008) and 2 World Championships.  Katie was the first American woman to score 6000 points in professional basketball. She retired in 2013.

4.  Jerry Lucas, Basketball.

An NBA Hall of Famer, Lucas was offered more college scholarships than any other high schooler up to that time except for Wilt Chamberlain.  Lucas was the first basketball player to win championships at the high school, college, Olympic, and NBA level.  On an interesting note, Lucas is one of the most brainy basketball players of all time and became a memory expert and an educator after his career. Lucas was ranked among the top 50 professional basketball players of all time in 1996.

3.  Archie Griffin, Football.

The only college player to win the Heisman trophy twice as the best player in college football.  That alone overshadows any other statistics that others can compare to his.

2.  Jesse Owens, Track

As described above, Jesse had an incomparable day of track and field on that special day in 1935.  Of course, his Gold Medals at the 1936 Olympics that stuck a thumb in the eye of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi racial “superiority” left an impression as well.

1.  Jack Nicklaus, Golf.

The greatest golfer of all time, Nicklaus has won more major tournaments than any other golfer (18).  For a time it appeared Tiger Woods would match or beat him, but that is appearing less likely as each year passes.  Lest anyone think all those major championships are a fluke, remember that The Golden Bear also came in second in 19 major tournaments and in third 9 times.  Of course, Nicklaus also won the US Amateur Championship twice and has 73 PGA wins and 43 other professional tournament wins to his credit.

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you disagree?  Tell us who you would put on the list.  Paul Warfield? Orlando Pace?  Troy Smith?  Eddie George?  Chic Harley?  So many to choose from!  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Wilson, Rusty.  The Ohio State University at the Olympics: A Biographical Dictionary of Athletes, Alternates, Administrators, Coaches and Trainers.  McFarland, 2009.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.