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Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Lachey remembers his NFL Draft day

By Robb Hemmelgarn
In a few hours, the 75th National Football League Draft will unfold, as hundreds of college football prospects from across the country anxiously anticipate what is simply dubbed, "the call."
Following months of poking, prodding and countless other physical and psychological exams, the moment of promise will boil down to the ceremonial ringing of a phone. For St. Henry High School graduate and former Ohio State offensive guard Jim Lachey, the edge-of-the-seat moment arrived a quarter-century ago this week.
"It's really hard to believe that it has been 25 years," remarked Lachey, a menace to defensive fronts, who earned all-Big Ten status as a senior in 1984. "I remember that day well. Mom and dad drove to Columbus and a group of us gathered in the apartment I shared with our quarterback, Mike Tomczak. We really didn't know what to expect, but I remember the Philadelphia Eagles calling before they had the number-nine pick and I was thinking that was where I was going to end up. That obviously didn't happen, but it didn't take long before the San Diego Chargers called. Everything was moving so fast at that point and it never really slowed down."
The afternoon capped an electrifying senior year for Lachey, who also earned All-American honors and blocked for fellow All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year, Keith Byars, as the Buckeyes concluded the campaign 9-3 under head coach Earle Bruce.
"As my senior season progressed, I was projected as a late first or possibly second round draft choice," recalled Lachey, who was elected to the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999. "Growing up, I think any kid who plays football dreams of someday playing in the NFL, and it was no different for me. After my sophomore year, I attended a Special Olympics event at Ohio Stadium and a couple of Browns offensive linemen were there - Doug Dieken and Tom Jackson. As I was shaking their hands, I realized that I was just as big as them and it got me thinking that heck, I could play in the NFL too! I participated in the combine the spring following my senior year and of course I worked out for several teams that came to visit Ohio State. I gave it everything I had every time out and eventually the closer draft day came, the more my stock escalated."
With the first selection of the draft, the Buffalo Bills gave the nod to Virginia Tech's Bruce Smith and from there Lachey, Tomczak and their closest friends and family remained fastened to the television.
"I always heard the commentators speak highly of Jim's play, but I didn't have any sense of what that meant in regards to the NFL," commented Ron, the youngest of three Lachey boys, who was a freshman in high school at the time. "My friend, Doug Schockman, had those little pennants for every NFL team and I brought those along to Columbus and kept them in the back bedroom. I don't think any of it really hit me until Pete Rozelle announced Jim as the 12th pick to the Chargers. I gave him San Diego's pennant and I remember some photographers from the Columbus paper coming over and taking his picture with it."
In a fascinating sign of the times, there were four other offensive linemen selected before Lachey.
In fact, the only offensive skill position player to get a call through the first 12 picks was wide receiver Al Toon, who was chosen 10th by the New York Jets.
Within hours of securing a new home, Lachey left his party and headed to Port Columbus airport where a ticket to San Diego awaited him.
"I mentioned how fast things seemed to go that day and now here I was on a plane to California," Lachey commented about the whirlwind of events. "I arrived there and immediately met with the Chargers' head coach, Don Coryell. In the car, he told me that practice began the next day and I was his starting left tackle. I thought to myself, 'Whoa - earlier in the day I was sitting there not knowing what was coming next and now here I am basically being told that if I'm still breathing tomorrow, I had a starting role!'"
History would dictate the significance of Lachey's early selection, as he went before Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, as well as several other notable NFL veterans such as Bernie Kosar, Randall Cunningham, Jack Del Rio, Andre Reed, Herschel Walker, and Doug Flutie.
"That was an interesting year and there definitely have not been many like it where it is so top heavy with offensive linemen," Lachey acknowledged. "A lot of those first linemen taken turned out to be pro-bowlers, and I know for me personally, it really worked out to be a great situation in San Diego. That first day I got into the huddle, I looked up and there was Dan Fouts, Charlie Joyner and Kellen Winslow... All great players and potential Hall of Famers. In my first two years in the league, we led the NFL in total offense, so it was certainly a lot of fun and something which I am glad as I was a part of."
As several players from his alma mater gear up for their own hopeful expectations in the draft this weekend, Lachey empathizes with what is buzzing through their minds.
"I spoke with a few guys last week like Jim Cordle, Austin Spitler and Jake Ballard (all Ohio State players looking to get drafted) and they are all excited for this weekend. I liked listening to what they are going through right now and you can sense the excitement and nervousness all at the same time. Really, it is something you work your whole life for and until the call comes in you don't know what the immediate future holds, but it is still a lot of fun."
In the past 25 years, the draft has evolved from a discreet, one-day experience into a three-day media-crammed extravaganza preceded by months of player profiles, updates and projections.
"The biggest thing that helped make the draft what it is now is ESPN," reasoned Lachey, singling out the 24-hour sports empire. "You had to be pretty hardcore 25 years ago to know as much as you are fed now. I think it puts a lot more pressure on the kids and definitely increases what is expected of them. I like how we had it back then - there wasn't a lot of hype and even though there was a lot of tension, there wasn't as much publicity behind it."
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A new state law requiring school districts to create a credit flexibility plan to allow high school students alternative ways of earning credit - including testing out of classes, independent study and internships - becomes effective next school year. [More]
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