For once, all he could do was watch. He couldn't coach them, not from 1,000 miles away in a San Antonio hotel room. He couldn't pat them on the back or holler at them to take care of the ball. From where Ted Ginn Sr. sat, waiting to coach another group of kids, he couldn't teach them how to be men. They were on their own.
And they did okay. Strong safety Donte Whitner helped put the clamps on Jeff Samardzija, solidifying his status as a first-round draft pick. Troy Smith shredded the Notre Dame secondary for 342 passing yards as the Fiesta Bowl's offensive MVP. And his son, Ted Jr., sliced through the Irish defense, gaining 167 receiving yards and scoring a 68-yard TD on an end around. By the time Ohio State's 34-20 victory had played out, the three alumni of Glenville High had definitely validated their high school coach's vision-yet again.
That vision appears on TV screens every Saturday during Ohio State's football season. But it is evident every day on a football field that sits a quarter of a mile from the Glenville campus in eastern Cleveland. Here, 120 inner-city teens, all African-American boys, move as one. They pick their right legs up in unison, set them down, dip low, then pick up their left legs, dip low. They repeat the exercise, moving forward 10 yards, in an elaborate Kabuki show, 12 rows of 10-tall kids, short kids, the chiseled, the hefty, the scrawny. Except for a single hand clap from the front of each line to initiate that group's turn, all is silent. Coaches mill among them, but they too say nothing. For the moment, they are unnecessary. The kids know the drill, the older ones leading the younger ones. The self-discipline is thicker than the humidity on this sweltering afternoon.
The warm-up continues for 10 minutes, through various exercises, until a single voice calls for jumping jacks. The boys erupt in a rhythmic chorus, hollering the letters G-L-E-N-V-I-L-L-E, coming closer together with each before shouting a volcanic "Glenville!" and whooping as only adolescents can. You are reminded that this is a game. It is high school football, and it is fun. These are the mighty Tarblooders of Glenville High, boys on the way to something better, on the way to college, on the way to becoming men.
This is what Ted Ginn Sr. has built.
And he's not done yet.
IF ALL you know about Ted Ginn Sr. is that he's the father of a Heisman candidate, you don't know enough. True, without the old man, the coach of Glenville High football for 10 years and Glenville track for four years, there would be no record-setting wide receiver in Columbus. But there also wouldn't be another Heisman candidate behind center for the Buckeyes, or two other possible starters on the nation's top-ranked college team-linebacker Curtis Terry and strong safety Jamario O'Neal-or two impact freshmen, wideout Ray Small and defensive end Robert Rose. They are Glenville Tarblooders all.
Young Ginn's stats are impressive-his 15 career TDs have covered an average of 58 yards-but Dad's are spectacular. His boys track teams have won four straight state championships, a dynastic run that started when his son was a junior. His football teams are a perennial power, and though they've never won state, they've come close, on more than one occasion giving Ohio's traditional Catholic-school powers a scare.
Without Ginn's kids, Ohio State almost certainly wouldn't be heading into the season ranked No. 1. But the Buckeyes are far from the only college team that has knocked on Ginn's office door. On national signing day in February, Glenville held a ceremony for the players who landed scholarships. There were 21 in all, 12 in D1-A, and every one of them met NCAA eligibility requirements. The celebration was muted, though. A teammate, 16-year-old Anthony Gordon, had been shot and killed following a fight at a rap concert four days earlier.
As in other communities beset by Rust Belt poverty and school systems dragged down by years of neglect, football has long been one way out of eastern Cleveland. Asked how many of his players have earned scholarships and qualified academically, Ginn motions to his secretary and says, "Lena can get you this year's list." When told the request is meant for his entire tenure, he and Lena burst into laughter. "There are so many," he says. "I have no idea."
It's rare that you catch Ginn without an idea. At 5'10", with a build that reflects a weakness for Honey Buns, Ginn's energy is, by all accounts, boundless. He can, and will, talk all day. His BlackBerry is always in hand to help him keep track of mundane details, like the latest locker room renovation. "We got a deal," he admits proudly. "Inmates at a state prison are making the lockers."
"He's 24/7," says Eric Haislah Jr., a senior defensive back who transferred to Glenville before last season and is now on the radar of several Big Ten and MAC schools. (Although rival coaches have begun to grouse about Ginn's ready acceptance of transfers, Glenville is no football factory. "They make sure you have the grades," says Eric Haislah Sr. "At this school, you can be more than what society wants you to be.")
"There are plenty of times I've called to talk to Coach Ginn at 2 in the morning," says Tarblooder star wideout Kyle Jefferson, who also anchors two state-champion relay teams. "About football, track, school, anything."
"Ted's called before in the middle of the night," says Ron Fuqua, a friend of Ginn's, "to tell me about a kid who was having a problem and how we had to go see him. I didn't have to ask if he meant right away."
When Smith got suspended for accepting money from an OSU booster in 2004, one of his first calls was to his high school coach. "He keeps it, as we say, 100," says Smith. "As in 100% real."
Ginn's genuine nature comes through in down-home metaphors, even when the subject is close to home. Although his son graduated 16th in his class, he was, by his dad's own accounting, "not the smartest kid in the world." The elder Ginn thought his son could benefit from the added attention at a tony, private elementary school. But after four years, Ted Jr. was still struggling, and the school wouldn't change its teaching methods to reach him. The Ginns pulled him out in the fifth grade and enrolled him in public school, where they could be more involved. "You've got to know where you're fishing," Ted Sr. says. "You might be in a bluegill pond, but you got the big catfish hook. There aren't any catfish in that pond, and the bluegill are nibbling your bait off. So you better change the hook."
True to his proverb, Ginn uses football as bait to lure his players to a better way. "The vision," he says, "is to make strong young men and great citizens. If you don't like the vision, get out of the way."
GINN MOVED to Cleveland from Louisiana with his mom when he was 11 and attended Glenville High. He never went to college, taking a job in the school system as a security guard instead. From 1976 to 1986, he was a volunteer assistant coach, then a paid assistant for 10 more years for an up-and-down program that would rarely land even one of its kids a scholarship.
When Ginn took over the Tarblooders, in 1997, he knew that wanting a good football team and making one are different things. So he went to work studying some of Ohio's storied prep programs, like St. Ignatius and Massillon. They had off-season workout programs and quality weight rooms. Soon, he vowed, his kids would have the same.
At Glenville today, conditioning is a religion because it builds speed. And according to the gospel of Ginn, speed builds success, success builds pride, and the right kind of pride builds strong men. Just looking at Ginn's off-season running program can induce vomiting. After five weeks, backs and receivers are expected to cover 475 yards in two minutes, five times with just three minutes' rest between each set. Linemen get a break; they only have to go 425.
May Madness is a grueling weights-and-running regimen that kicks off each morning at 6. "That's the only time I know kids don't have a good excuse to be anywhere else, like caring for a baby sister or getting groceries for their grandmother." Ten kids survived the first May Madness a decade ago. These days, he gets 60 to show up. And there's Commando Training in the winter, a three-miles-and-change hilly run to Lake Erie and back, through the snow.
None of those workouts comes close to how hard Ginn works his track athletes, whose sprint sets start at 600 yards. "Football is easy after track," says Jefferson, one of many kids who letter in both sports. "You can't even imagine how tired you get. But once you do it and you see yourself getting fast, it's like you can do anything. It trains you mentally."
Adds Haislah, "It makes you feel like a man."
Working hard, of course, is only one part of manhood. Responsibility is another, and Ginn constantly pushes his kids to be constructive and productive and to stay away from the dice games, drug dealing, drinking and wannabe gangsterism they see on the way home from school. Fuqua, who runs a nonprofit academic consulting service, helped Ginn set up a full-time academic monitoring shop manned by the Glenville staff. A study table is set up every day during lunch and before practice, and kids can get SAT and ACT coaching. Academic reports are filed almost daily, so Ginn knows if anyone cuts class. Some of his kids have joined his Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter-but there is hell to pay for anyone who falls out of line. "They know I kid around," he says. "But I don't play."
Nor does he give up. Ginn takes players under his own roof to keep them out of trouble. Smith's dad was gone and his mother struggled to provide, and that made him a frequent boarder. "See that," says Ginn, pointing to a collage of photos in his office. "That tells the Troy Smith story." There's a picture of the street sign at 71st and Superior, pictures of boarded-up houses where Smith used to live, pictures of Smith in action in his football uniform. "They show Troy running from his past."
Star QBs aren't the only ones welcomed by Ginn and his wife, Jeanette. Ted Jr. shared a room with a host of troubled kids: "As I was growing up, my dad said God had a purpose for everyone. Dad's purpose is to watch over hundreds of kids. My purpose is to roll with it. If there were six guys in a room that was supposed to be just for me, it was cool. It's a blessing. I've had big brothers and little brothers I never would've had."
Of course, being fast and smart and strong isn't always enough. So Ginn promotes his kids. He began the Ginn Bus Tour in 1999, taking players who weren't otherwise able to afford "personal visits" to campuses all around the Midwest, to both big-time jock schools and small liberal-arts colleges. They met coaches, delivered tapes and showed off their 40 times and GPAs. When scholarships began to flow in, Ginn expanded the tour to include high schoolers from throughout Ohio, giving suburban and city kids, public and private schoolers alike, a chance to get to know each other as colleges got to know them. "Just another of my crazy dreams," Ginn says.
The craziest of all is still taking shape. Ginn is quick to show off a computer rendering of a high school that looks more like a college, complete with dorms, modern classrooms, a spacious "student life" area and a massive indoor athletic facility that includes a 200-meter track and an artificial-turf field. The Ginn Academy will be the culmination of its founder's career.
Think of it as a scholarly Bollettieri camp for the inner city, where kids can simultaneously take advantage of top-notch academic programs and proven athletic training methods. "We'll train them, but the students will be eligible to play for any public high school in the city," Ginn says. "We don't need to have our own teams."
The city and state approved Ginn's proposal last spring, and the school was supposed to open with a class of 25 this fall. But for once, the coach has been stymied: He can't get funding. He'll go slowly if he has to. He's already put off opening the school for at least a year. "People make you believe you got a great idea, and, 'Yeah, I'm right behind you,'" Ginn says. "Then you look around, and you're the only one in the pond and there's snakes in there."
The other day, his phone rang. It was a man who was trying to become financial adviser to Whitner, the ex-Tarblooder and Buckeyes defensive back who was drafted in the first round by the Bills. Whitner, who had just signed a contract with $13 million in guaranteed money, immediately referred the caller to Ginn. The coach listened patiently and agreed to nothing.
As more of his Tarblooders get to the pros, Ginn says, "it will be the next link in the chain you've built. We hand what we learn to the next person and the next person." If he can't find that big corporate or philanthropic donor to underwrite his dream, a few years from now he's likely to know some well-off pros who'll gladly help.
Maybe it'll be one of the 21 seniors he sent off to college last year. Or maybe it will be one of the kids who fill the 21 gaps they left. Glenville is supposed to be rebuilding, but the roster includes some excellent players, including blue-chip linebacker Jermale Hines. Still, the team is probably too green to go undefeated in the regular season as last year's squad did or to recapture the glory days of Troy and Ted Jr.
Don't tell that to Kyle Jefferson, though. He's tall and wiry and fast-and he's seen the result of hard work. "I have a feeling about this team," he says. "I think we might surprise everybody."
There's hope in his voice. And why not?
Who will be OSU's MVP, Ginn Jr. or Smith? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.