Dick Schafrath says the hardest thing he ever did was finish his degree.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- Even in the afterlife, Woody Hayes is producing victories.
It's safe to say none of his national titles would have given him more satisfaction than seeing former pet project Dick Schafrath receive his diploma from Ohio State during graduation ceremonies last weekend in the Schottenstein Center.
A half century after Hayes took Schafrath into his football program -- and into his home, so he could keep a closer eye on the reluctant student -- the prodigal son and former state senator from Mansfield returned to campus to finish work on his degree.
In between, he became a fixture on the offensive line for the Buckeyes, went on to a long Pro Bowl career with the Cleveland Browns, served four terms in the Ohio Senate and performed superhuman feats -- wrestling a bear, canoeing across Lake Erie and running 62 miles in one day -- that made tackling schoolwork, belatedly, just the latest expression of his quirky personality.
Woody would be proud
Schafrath, affectionately called Mule by teammates and friends, knows his bullheaded coach with the terrible temper and soft spot for graduates would have been proud of this amazing comeback.
"I was a horrible student the first time around," said Schafrath, who turns 70 in March. "I lived with Woody off and on for two years. I was eligible as long as I lived with Woody. But the next quarter I wouldn't go to class because all I wanted to do was play baseball."
The Wooster native and son of a dairy farmer had no intention of going to college. He was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of high school.
"But I never got there," Schafrath said, "because Woody recruited my parents."
Schafrath left Ohio State with three letters, two wins over Michigan, a Rose Bowl victory and the everlasting glory that comes with being a national champion (1957) and senior captain (1958). He also left with a subterranean 1.99 grade point average and some gnawing unfinished business.
"When he gave speeches, he always said how he regretted not having his degree," said Heidi Hoffmann of Mansfield, Schafrath's daughter. "He always talked about how Woody and his mom were always on his case. I think it ate at him."
Took on the challenge
With encouragement from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and longtime friends Bruce Zoldan and Jim Ward, Schafrath decided last year to plunge back into academia. He dug out the metal Roy Rogers lunch box he used as a grade-schooler, carried his books around in a kitty litter bucket and even slung a whistle around his neck -- "just in case," he joked, "one of the [coeds] chased me."
Schafrath knew there was nowhere else to go but up in the classroom. That's why he began wearing a T-shirt bearing the message "1.99 and still rising."
Taking advantage of an outreach program that pays tuition for former Ohio State scholarship athletes, Schafrath says he maintained a "B and above" average while earning 46 credits toward his degree in sport and exercise sciences in the College of Education.
His classes included sports law and adaptive physical education. Part of his schooling also involved leading a class of youngsters in a motor-development class at the Ohio State Child Care Center.
That was probably one of the few times the sports legend with seven children and 11 grandchildren felt truly comfortable in school.
'Scared to death'
For years he said nothing made him feel more uneasy than watching game film under the critical eye of icon Paul Brown, his first coach with the Browns. But true fear was walking back into a classroom for the first time in nearly 50 years.
"I started out with one five-hour class and was scared to death," Schafrath said. "I can't see too well out of one eye and have memory problems and anxiety problems. I felt intimidated. I'm probably the only one of 53,000 students who didn't know anything about computers. In return for tuition, I had to work as a proctor in one of the computer rooms, and I didn't even know how to turn the computer on."
Hoffmann jokes that she and her siblings should also have their names on their dad's diploma.
"I'm the only one of the children still in Ohio and he was always crying to me how hard it was," Hoffman said. "I feel like I typed some of those papers he had to turn in. The whole family helped earn that degree."
As a Browns rookie trying to convince Paul Brown he was big enough to play offensive tackle in the pros, Schafrath once hid suspenders holding up a 25-pound iron jockstrap under his shirt before stepping on the scale for his coach.
There were no shortcuts this time around.
"This was nothing like doing something in one day," Schafrath said.
Becoming a college graduate took even more energy than his wrestling matches with Victor the Bear at sports shows. It was more taxing than paddling across Lake Erie after he beat intestinal cancer, or running 62 miles from Cleveland Stadium to Wooster before his final season with the Browns in 1971. It took Schafrath less than 18 hours to complete his ultra-marathon and he won a station wagon as part of a bet with a Wooster car dealer.
"This lasted two years and was like going up and down the mountain every day," Schafrath said. "You've got to write essays and constantly do something every day. It was a challenge. I told myself to keep my head down and finish this baby."
Rooting him on the entire way was Tressel.
"Think about all the awesome things he did as a college football player, then went on to a professional career and then his career of serving our government," Tressel said. "Now to come full circle, it makes you proud."