COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John Kerr didn't tell them who he was. Parking cars at Hyde Park was a prime gig mixed with prime rib. Steak place. White-table-cloth place. Beautiful women and powerful men emerged from those cars.
"You don't let them know," Ohio State's linebacker said. "It's a good way to get yourself in trouble."
|After transferring from Indiana to Ohio State, John Kerr is not eligible for financial aid due to a Big Ten rule. (Provided to CBSSports.com)|
See: Smith, Troy.
Ohio State is no different from the other power programs. For the most part, players are privileged.
For the most part.
John Kerr hasn't played any meaningful football since 2002. Worse, Kerr has had to pay for his privilege. A 50-year-old Big Ten rule prohibits players who transfer within the conference from receiving financial aid.
In other words, no scholarship. The biggest star can become a glorified walk-on scrounging for tuition money. Kerr was that star, leading Big Ten freshmen in tackles in 2002 at Indiana. But he didn't like coach Gerry DiNardo, and frankly, the coach didn't like him, later blasting Kerr during Big Ten preseason media days.
"My mom read (the statements) to me," Kerr said. "There's no reason to ever get into that. That's not a classy thing. I didn't like the way he ran his program so I left."
It hasn't been easy going from hell to heaven. Kerr has made ends meet by parking those luxury sleds, taking out loans and working construction.
It's not going to be easy when he finally plays consistently. Kerr is one of three new starters at linebacker trying to replace arguably the best group in school history -- A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel.
Playing in their shadows, Kerr is going to face snap (by snap) judgments from Buckeye Nation. Through it all, he doesn't want, or need, your pity about having to work his way through college.
But he does realize players are at an automatic disadvantage when they sign that letter of intent.
"I think it's kind of ridiculous ...," the senior from Strongsville, Ohio, said. "How many 18-year olds do you know who can make a decision that is going to be a lifelong decision, and is going to be a good one?"
Good point. They don't tell you when you sign the letter that you are an indentured servant. Coaches have the hammer, able to revoke that scholarship at the end of each academic year.
Those same coaches screamed recently at new NCAA legislation that allows fifth-year grad school students to transfer without penalty. It was a small victory for the laborers in this industry.
The Big Ten's intra-conference transfer rule is one of the most restrictive policies in college athletics. It's meant to be that way. The coaches get what they want. They don't want to lose a player and eventually get beaten by him.
Only a handful of players have had the money or guts to try it. Jeff George was one of those glorified walk-ons, going from Purdue to Illinois. Luke Recker, too, going from Indiana to Iowa (via Arizona).
"We all recruit, we all live in the same region, we compete," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said. "We want people to be free to do what they want, but we choose to restrict ourselves on the aid issue."
Back in 1956. The world has changed. The Big Ten mentality hasn't.
Kerr couldn't have known what was coming when his star rose at Indiana. He had to sit out the transfer year in 2003. In 2004 and 2005 he played sparingly, on special teams and backing up the star linebackers.
"I'll put it this way. John comes to play football," his father, Bill, said. "All of his frustrations will be taken care of this fall."
Bill Kerr estimates the annual bill to educate his son comes to $25,000 when you factor in tuition, room and board. John has taken out loans, which will be paid off more easily if he lands an NFL contract some day. If not, consider his career the ultimate character builder.
Bill's kid worked 50-60 hours a week during the summer doing construction, literally digging post holes at times.
And players complain about offseason conditioning?
Like thousands of other kids in the state, Kerr always wanted to be a Buckeye, but Ohio State never offered. The kid didn't pick up football until the ninth grade. By the time he was a senior at powerful St. Ignatius, Kerr had become a hitting machine, making 230 tackles and becoming defensive player of the year for the state champions.
A bit undersized at 6-feet-1, 250, Kerr went to Indiana. The Hoosiers continued to lose, but he was all over the field, getting double-digit tackles in a four-touchdown loss to Maurice Clarett and Ohio State.
That was a big day. If nothing else happened, Kerr showed the Buckeyes he could play. There should be no argument about his ability to work.
"If you're stuck in a situation like I had, you can be one of the leading tacklers in the Big Ten and be miserable," he said. "I'm a normal student now. It's definitely weird."