Rob Harley knew that he wanted to play football for the Ohio State University since he was three years old. He grew up hearing stories about his great-great uncle Chic Harley, who was the first three-time All-American at Ohio State. Rob lived out his dream by walking on and playing football for the Buckeyes. Rob also became a part of college football history during his tenure at Ohio State as he was a part of a team that won the National Championship in 2002. Rob graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration and is currently working as a College Football Analyst for ABC WSYX in Columbus, Ohio. We had a chance to do a Q&A with a guy who not only works as an analyst for college football but also played the game for one of the most stories programs. Here is what Rob shared with us...
You started your career at Ohio State as a walk-on and were awarded a scholarship for your final season. How did it feel to receive that honor?
Receiving a scholarship was a great honor, but in all honesty it was the “icing” on the cake. I wanted to go to Ohio State since I was 3 years old with one idea in mind, to PLAY for the Buckeyes. The real honor came two years before the scholarship when I played enough in games to earn 2 varsity letters. Going to Ohio State was never about a scholarship, it was always about actually playing/contributing in front of 100,000 fans every Saturday. When it was all said and done I was a 3-time letter winner and that’s probably the thing that makes me the most proud.
You were a part of the 2002 Ohio State National Championship team. In order to win a National Championship the ball has to bounce your way at times. Ohio State played a lot of close games in the regular season in 2002 (beat Cincinnati 23-19, beat Northwestern 27-16, beat Wisconsin 19-14, beat Penn State 13-7, beat Purdue 10-6, beat Illinois 23-16 in OT, and beat Michigan 14-9). Was there a moment or a game that made you think that this might be a "team of destiny"?
That 2002 team was one of the most resilient teams I’ve ever seen. There was a genuine calmness about everyone on the field and the sidelines, that when things got tough we were going to find a way to pull through. I think that was personified in the win over Purdue with the play that Buckeye fans know as “Holy Buckeye.” The stars just seemed to align that day in West Lafayette, and you couldn’t help but get the feeling that the National Championship was our destiny.
Looking back at the 2002 roster there are a lot of guys that have made it in the league (Michael Jenkins, Ben Hartsock, Will Allen, Chris Gamble, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Mike Doss, Will Smith, Santonio Holmes, Troy Smith, etc) that were on that team . Who were the unsung heroes on the team?
There were a lot of great players on that 2002 National Championship team, and a lot of guys who got a ton of recognition. Like most teams there are always those “hard hat” or “lunch pail” guys that just come to work every day to play their hearts out because they don’t know any different. Defensive tackle Tim Anderson was one of those guys, taking on double teams in the trenches so they linebackers could roam free. Wide receiver Chris Vance, affectionately known as Spiderman, had some great 3rd down, possession receptions throughout the season. A lot of people forget about punter Andy Groom who had an All-American caliber season, and was worth weight in gold in the field position battle. I think you also have to put defensive end Darrion Scott in there too, he was a force coming off the edge and really made opposing lineman work on every down. The 2002 Silver Bullet defense was a special group that made offenses earn everything they got, it was an awesome unit to watch.
Ohio State is in a lot of pre-season Top 5's this year. Who are the players to watch on this years team?
All eyes will be under center on QB Terrelle Pryor. Can Terrelle ride the momentum of an impressive Rose Bowl game and become a quarterback? In my mind the definition of a quarterback is “game manager.” The Buckeyes have a bevy of talent around Pryor; WR Sanzenbacher, WR Posey, RB Herron, and RB Saine. With that being said it’s Pryor’s job to distribute the ball and make the key decision when it’ll be his time to shine. On defense DE Cameron Heyward will be a monster, he’s gifted with size, speed, and the nasty attitude it takes to play up front in the Big Ten. I think you circle LB Brian Rolle this season, he’s an instinctive player that can run sideline to sideline. Then you have to give love to the big uglies in the trenches so put a spotlight on the 4 returning O-lineman. This 2010 Buckeye squad will rise and fall with the play of the big boys up front.
What is your take on Big Ten expansion? Are you for it or against it? And if the Big Ten does expand further who would you like to see as a part of the Conference?
As a fan of college football I love the idea of Big Ten expansion. Depending on the teams that join the Big Ten it has the potential to give us some unbelievable match-ups every year. Now with the addition of Nebraska we’ll get to see Huskers-Buckeyes, Huskers-Hawkeyes, Huskers-Badgers, or Huskers-Nittany Lions every season. What an incredible addition to the conference, a storied program that will only make Big Ten tradition even deeper. In my mind I’d love to see Notre Dame join the Big Ten, another program with tons of tradition that would create some great games as well. I think I’d throw Pittsburgh in there too, as a program that would be a solid middle tier addition. The only question I have about expansion is, what happens to college football as a whole? The power conferences get stronger, but where are the little guys in all of this? As a supporter of college football it worries me that expansion may make certain teams/conferences irrelevant. The pursuit of money has blinded a lot of people to the real reason college football is great…the actual football. It’s an amazing sight to see college athletes give from every team, division, conference, etc. give it up for every Saturday. I’d hate to see expansion throw a mask over the greatest game on the planet.
Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin seem to be the popular picks to finish in the Top 3 in the Big Ten this year. Outside of those teams who do you see as a sleeper team in the Big Ten that can step up and contend for a title?
I firmly believe that the Big Ten is on the up-swing and you definitely saw it during the 2009 bowl season. The Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, and Badgers are without a doubt the favorites, but I’ve got a feeling Michigan State and Northwestern will be in the conversation at some point. The Spartans have talent at key positions, but it’s really about playing consistent for them. If the Michigan State defense can minimize big plays and win a few ball games, Sparty might just have a chance. Pat Fitzgerald has Northwestern playing good football in Evanston. Biggest question mark will be under center, can junior Dan Persa replace the 2009 Big Ten leading passer Mike Kafka? Persa is a capable player, but expect the offense to try to be a little more balanced as he cuts his teeth. You’ve got to like Northwestern’s chances to compete if you look at their defense. Yes, they lose DE Corey Wooten, but they may just have one of the best linebacking corps in the conference. If the Cats can establish a running game (last year’s leading RB had 302yds), they might be in the discussion in November.
Who do you feel are some of the under the radar players in the Big Ten that deserve more hype and publicity?
Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks will be a headache for a lot of defenses, at 6’4” 240lbs he’s a guy that can get vertical in the seam quickly to stretch a defense. Michigan State QB/WR Keith Nichol, he’s got some wheels and may give the Spartans the option to run the Wildcat. Iowa OT Riley Reiff has become the new BMOC in Iowa City, a guy that the Hawkeyes believe could be the best in the last 10 years. Ohio State LB Brian Rolle will be a force to be reckoned with, he has a great nose for the football and has the ability to make people pay.
What games are you most looking forward to watching this year?
LSU vs. UNC - should be a great match-up, that impressive Tar Heel defense will have a chance to measure itself early.
Boise State vs. Va Tech – the Broncos with yet another chance to prove they belong with the big boys, if BSU can go on the road in Landover, MD and get the win…I’ll be a believer.
Miami vs. Ohio State – this is a mirror image game with two similar athletes under center that are looking to produce consistently and become quarterbacks.
Penn State vs. Alabama – this one should be interesting with the Lions headed down South with a new QB, we’ll get a chance to see what PSU is made of quickly.
Nebraska vs. Washington – I’ll be interested to see QB Jake Locker become “the guy” this season, he has all the talent in the World and it’ll be tested by a stingy Husker defense.
As a former defensive back, who are some of the guys currently playing in college that you feel best epitomize that position and that you enjoy watching play the game?
The Big Ten always has solid safeties and this year is no exception. Iowa’s Tyler Sash is the embodiment of a safety. He has the knack for making game changing plays when the Hawkeyes need it the most. Plays the ball well in the air (6 INTs), and can stick his nose in the box to support the run with 85 tackles in 2009. Also check out Clemson’s DeAndre McDaniel. He’s a ball hawk over the middle with 8 INTs last season, and at 6’1” 210lbs a force to be reckoned with after having 102 tackles.
On the flipside of that questions, who are some of the Wide Receivers or Tight Ends currently in college that you are glad you don't have to suit up and try and stop?
There’s always those players that make you nervous and make you think twice about going one on one as a defender. Cincinnati WR Armon Binns is one of those players, at 6’4” he can challenge anyone vertically and he’s a touchdown machine with 11 TDs in 2009. Another beast in the Big East is Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin. There’s no defender that wouldn’t look at 6’5” 225lbs as a problem. Baldwin isn’t just imposing physically, the kid can flat out play averaging 19.5 yards per catch last season. Virginia Tech WR Jarrett Boykin is another guy who makes it a tough task to go one on one as he average almost 21 yards per catch in 2009. Although he may be a system player Houston WR James Cleveland still produced. He had over 1,200 yards receiving and found the endzone 14 times as a Sophomore.
Not including Ohio State, who is your "way too early" pick to take the National Championship this year? Any teams flying under the radar that you think could make a run for it like you guys did in 2002 after going 7-5 the previous year?
It’s awfully early to be picking National Champions when the ball hasn’t even kicked off yet, but I’ve got my eye on a couple of teams. In my mind Texas has a great shot since they broke in their new QB on the biggest stage in last season’s National Championship game. The biggest question mark is the Longhorn run game. Without a solid effort on the ground this season, young Garrett Gilbert will have a rough time putting the entire team on his shoulders. It may be a cliché, but it’s true…defense wins championships. With that mind set North Carolina (8-5 last season) might have an outside chance of sneaking into the National title game with a defense loaded with NFL talent. The Heels also return their top four producers on offense, if they can find an answer under center it should get real interesting in Chapel Hill.
Thank you to Rob for letting us pick his brain for information on college football. Follow Rob on Facebook and Twitter and visit his blog Harley In The Huddle.