The Marshall Plan and my date with destiny was realized when coach Johnny Majors, the then coach of the Iowa State Cyclones allowed me to DE commit from my scholarship offer at Iowa State University. This kind gesture by coach Majors enabled me to entertain football scholarship offers from other interested schools.
After receiving several calls from coach Lengyel, I reluctantly decided to visit the Marshall Campus. When I arrived on campus, Reggie Oliver and Roy Tabb escorted me down Gullickson Hall to meet coach Lengyel and the rest of his coaching staff. I was drawn to the team picture of the 1970 Marshall University football team, the crash victims. It mesmerized me and tugged on my heartstrings. With raw fascination, I developed a connection with Scottie Reese and wanted to finish what he had started. I walked down the hall but stared back at the photo.
I had a pleasant visit with coach Lengyel, who explained how I could fit into the Thundering Herd’s football program. The visit ended on a positive note, but I was still not convinced Marshall was the program for me, except for my desire to play for the crash victims, particularly Scottie Reese. I thanked everyone involved in the recruiting process for showing me around the Marshall campus. Ironically, the Marshall University football program recruited me while I was attending Steubenville Big Red in Steubenville, Ohio in 1969. However, I didn’t academically qualify for a major college scholarship. As a result, I had to attend Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa. I had an outstanding career at Ellsworth and attracted suitors from every conference and independents by the likes of Notre Dame, Syracuse and the University of West Virginia.
As the recruiting process continued, I weighed the pros and cons about Marshall, and the cons outweighed the pros. I visited the University of Maryland. The school had excellent weight training and nutritional programs, and I was excited about playing with Randy White, a defensive star and an eventual All-Pro Dallas Cowboy; Bob Avellini, who wound up being the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears; and Tim Wilson, the Terrapin fullback who had a long NFL career blocking for Earl Campbell with the Houston Oilers. I like Kent State because Jack Lambert, the Golden Flashers’ middle linebacker and later a Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steeler was anchoring the defense. The current Alabama coach Lou Saban, a defensive back and later a coach was also a member of the Kent State football team plus Gerald Tinker, a wide receiver and a World Class Olympic sprinter; and the university was less than two and a half hours from Steubenville.
The pressure of being a top recruit started to weigh on my nerves. The coaches recruiting me were all very nice, and I didn’t want to say no to anyone. As a result, this made my decision more difficult. Therefore, I took their calls and decided to cancel the rest of my campus visits to Texas- El Paso, Syracuse, Idaho, Iowa, South Dakota, Maine, New Hampshire, Montana, and Missouri because I was getting behind on my studies and wanted to minimize pressure.
The recruiting trips had gotten me out of Iowa Falls, Iowa where there was nothing to do. I was torn between my desire to attend a school with a major college football program or to go to Marshall and play for the crash victims. Then, there was the Dayton Flyers, a school that really wanted me to play in my home state. In fact, I’d signed a Letter of Intent with Dayton before I finally signed with Marshall. Although I was in a win-win situation, I didn’t want to tell any coach no.
On signing day, I had narrowed my choices to Marshall and Dayton and I was leaning towards Dayton. The telephone rang. It was Coach Lengyel calling to re-emphasize, “A lot of schools want you, but we need you. I want you to help me rebuild the Marshall Football program. Although there’ll be challenges, you’ll have the opportunity to do something special.” Coach Lengyel sold me on Marshall.
Just minutes later, coach McVey called with the news that he was about to board a plane to come out to officially sign me. I told him that I had committed to Marshall and apologized to him. Although I should have been happy about signing with Marshall, I felt that I’d let coach McVey and coach Neel, the defensive coordinator and former Steubenville Big Red great down. What’s more, I liked the idea of playing in my home state, familiar surroundings, with a coach from my old high school.
It turns out that breaking out of my comfort zone and delving into the unknown was the best decision I ever made. Going to Marshall University alllowed me to play football for a cause bigger than myself because it helped keep a dying program alive. Lastly, it introduced me to my future wife Della. I am forever grateful to Coach Lengyel for changing my life and helping me reach my full potential.