Friday, December 13, 2002
Where Are They Now? Tom Cousineau
By Mike Diegnan
Tom Cousineau was close to giving up. He didn't think he could handle the pressures of big-time college football.
One week into two-a-days at Ohio State, the freshman linebacker called his father, a high school coach in Cleveland, to tell him that it wasn't working out. Cousineau was sore and feeling the effects of his first training camp where he was facing two All-American offensive linemen in practice, Teddy Smith and Chris Ward; college football's only two-time Heisman Trophy, Archie Griffin, at running back; and a monster fullback, Pete Johnson.
His equipment showed the brunt of the practices: a cracked helmet and a broken pair of shoulder pads.
"I said, 'Dad, I don't know, I think maybe I have made a mistake. I can't seem to pick it up, adjust to the pace here,'" Cousineau recalls.
His father, Tom Sr., did not want to hear this and encouraged his son to keep plugging away, that things would change. And they quickly did.
With the first-team offense lined up in an I-formation, Johnson telegraphed he was getting the ball. The 250-pound Johnson was no match for the 215-pound linebacker.
"I caught Pete coming out of his stance," Cousineau says of that preseason practice. "I put him right on his back. That just never happened to Pete. Coach (Woody) Hayes was there. He went crazy. He was screaming and yelling, 'God dammit!'"
Hayes made the offense run the same play. Cousineau pancaked Johnson again.
Hayes got even hotter and threw Cousineau out of practice, although coach George Hill had to convince Tom that Hayes was pleased with his play.
It was the sign of things to come for Cousineau in the scarlet and gray.
At the start of the '75 season, he was a backup to senior captain Kenny Kuhn. When Kuhn went down in the second game of the season -- a nationally televised game against Penn State -- Cousineau got thrown in the middle of the action, a role he would flourish in.
Almost all tackle records at Ohio State are still held by Cousineau today. In 1978, he made 211 tackles in 12 games -- an average of 17.5 a game. He had 29 in one game.
He was named an All-American in 1977 and '78. The Chicago Tribune named him the MVP of the Big Ten in '78.
Even more special for Cousineau was that he was able to accomplish this under the shadow of his youth. Tom Sr. was the head coach at Lakewood (Ohio) High School and fed his only son a strong knowledge of the game. But when it was time for Tom Jr. to go to high school, his mother, Carol, would not allow him to go to Lakewood and play for his father. Instead, Cousineau went to St. Edwards, which was just three blocks from Lakewood High.
Each year, Lakewood and St. Edwards would battle it out.
"Those particular weeks were a little solemn around the house," Cousineau says. But "we kicked his ass."
After St. Edwards, Cousineau stayed close to home, where he starred for one of college football's legendary coaches, Woody Hayes. Cousineau's final game as a Buckeye also proved to be Hayes': a 17-15 loss to Clemson in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes was fired after striking Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman during the game.
|Tom Cousineau became Ohio State's first-ever first overall pick in the NFL Draft.|
"That was so unfortunate," Cousineau says. "People who know football, that is the first thing they talk about when his name comes up. There is so much more about him than that final incident. While he never ducked, he never made an excuse and he was eventually held accountable for that action. I think it could have been held a little differently. For us, that was an extremely sad outcome."
The NFL took notice of Cousineau. The Buffalo Bills selected him with the first pick of the 1979 NFL Draft, but the Ohio State star would never suit up for the Bills. Owner Ralph Wilson played hardball with the rookie and Cousineau held out.
"It was the most disappointing thing about my NFL career," Cousineau says.
With no leverage except a trip north of the border, Cousineau went to Montreal to play in the CFL. While he was paid well and treated with respect by Canadian management, the talent level could not compare to what his friends were seeing each Sunday in the NFL.
In 1982, Cousineau came out of exile and allowed to negotiate with any NFL team, although the Bills still had the right to match any offer sheet. Cousineau signed a deal with the Houston Oilers, but the Bills matched it and sent him packing to his hometown Browns.
Since retiring in 1987 after four years with Cleveland and two in San Francisco, Cousineau has enjoyed success in the business world. After years of running a highway construction company, he is now a partner of MultiSource Communications, an e-commerce solutions company, which specializes in the medical industry.
Cousineau still attends OSU games on a regular basis from his home in Akron and soon will be providing more of a rooting section at the Horseshoe. Tom and his wife, Lisa, are proud parents of Kyle Michelle and Kacey Savannah. Last year, he was an honorary captain for OSU's dramatic victory over Purdue.
Cousineau says his father taught him about hard work, but his most important lesson came during his first week at Ohio State -- to bear down and keep fighting. Looking back at what he did under the scrutiny of Woody Hayes, it's unbelievable to think that Cousineau thought that he wasn't going to make it.
Mike Diegnan is the editor of BCSfootball.com.
|Ohio State's Woody Hayes ended his legendary career in the same game as Cousineau.|