Before Frank Solich arrived in Athens, Ohio, almost a decade ago, Ohio Bobcats football didn't have much going for it. For most people under 40 the team was regarded as a perennial loser. In fact from 1970 until 2006 (Solich's first winning season at Ohio)—a 36-year stretch—the 'Cats had just seven winning seasons, with five of those coming between 1974 and 1982.
It should come as little surprise then the Ohio went almost three decades without having a player selected in the NFL Draft (Dave Zastudill, whom we named an award after, broke the Bobcats NFL Draft dry spell in 2002). But, for the first 40 years of the NFL Draft's history, players from Ohio consistently heard their names called.
In fact, way back in 1936, in the first ever NFL Draft, an Ohio Bobcat heard his name called early on at the Philadelphia Ritz-Carlton. With the ninth pick in the 1936 NFL Draft the New York Giants selected Art Lewis, an offensive lineman from Ohio. That's a whole six picks before the first Ohio State Buckeye was selected.
Lewis, a 6-foot-3, 223 pound offensive bulldozer (think about that for a minute) lasted a few seasons in the NFL, playing his last year in the league in 1939 with the Cleveland Rams (isn't NFL history fun?). A few years after Lewis was taken in the Top 10, Ohio back (not technically a running back, but we'll call him that anyway) Len Janiak went to the Brooklyn Dodgers football team in the 12th round. He too lasted a few seasons in the league before moving on to other prospects.
Two rounds later Ohio's first future Pro Bowler, Chet Adams—a 6-foot-3, 233 pound defensive lineman, kicker and punter—was taken by the Cleveland Rams. By this point in time, Lewis, the first Bobcat ever taken in the NFL Draft, had moved on to Cleveland, and spent Adams' rookie season playing on the Rams' offensive line before retiring from the league. Adams spent 11 seasons in the league, earning Pro Bowl honors twice (in 1941 and 1942).
Over the course of the next 37 years 21 more Bobcats heard their names called in the Draft. Many of these players never achieved much in the NFL, but some of them still managed to make names for themselves in the world of athletics, including a 1958 15th-round pick, Lester Carney, who went on to skip pro football for a life in track and captured silver in the 200m at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
In 1962 three players were selected out of Ohio. A year later another two. All told there have been seven seasons where two or more 'Cats were taken in the same NFL Draft.
Cleve Bryant, the former Ohio quarterback great who went 9-44-2 in his six seasons as Ohio's head coach—and later was fired in 2011 from his role as an associate athletic director at the University of Texas for sexually harassing a 24-year-old employee—was among that group of players which as a whole failed to stand out in their NFL careers. In 1972 the Ohio-to-NFL pipeline dried up.
Then in 2002 an All-American punter by the name of Zastudil snapped the 'Cats NFL Draft dry spell, going in the fourth round to the Baltimore Ravens. During his 11-seasons in the NFL, Zastudil has been one of the most consistent punters in the league. In 2012 he set an NFL-record with the Arizona Cardinals by punting for 5,209 yards on the season. He is by all accounts the greatest former Ohio player ever to play in the NFL, and he doesn't appear ready to quit going anytime soon. He reached a new two-year deal with the Cardinals in January.
2014 NFL Draft
2014 NFL Draft
While it was six more seasons before another Bobcat was taken in the NFL Draft, Zasty opened the gates for the Green and White once more. With Solich now in control, Ohio's had five players taken since 2008.
Mike Mitchell went in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft to the Oakland Raiders (shocking considering he wasn't even invited to the Combine).
Mitchell, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, has had a nice career so far. While he's not a household name, he's one of the more consistent safeties in the league.
Since Mitchell three Ohio players have heard their names called, but none have been able to make a real impact on their respective teams' roster. This year, one Ohio NFL Draft-hopeful has already taken his name off the market. The greatest statistical quarterback in Ohio history, Tyler Tettleton, opted to sign with the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
His offensive weapons, Donte Foster and Beau Blankenship, have a shot at signing as undrafted free agents, but neither appears likely to be drafted. Then you have Travis Carrie, a once lock to be drafted, injuries resulted in him missing his fifth season entirely, and have now pushed him to the bubble. If any Bobcat can continue Ohio's NFL Draft pipeline though, it's him.