Big Ten finale has Youngstown flavor

Nebraska (aka “Cardinal Mooney West”) will play Wisconsin and Boardman’s Chase Hammond

By Joe Scalzo

Wisconsin wide receiver Chase Hammond practically gushes when he talks about his hometown and seems genuinely happy when one of his former teammates — or his former opponents — represents Youngstown in a positive way in college football.

And, yeah, he knows you’re not rooting for him this weekend.

“I kind of gave up on people cheering for us,” said Hammond, chuckling. “People are like, ‘Go Ohio State’ or ‘Go Nebraska.’

“I’m the lone guy up here in Wisconsin.”

Saturday in Indianapolis, the Boardman High graduate will take on a team that’s become an extension of Cardinal Mooney when his Badgers play Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game.

Led by former Cardinal Bo Pelini, Nebraska’s program features three Mooney graduates on its coaching staff (Pelini, offensive coordinator Tim Beck and tight ends coach Vince Marrow) and three more on its roster (senior WR Tim Marlowe, sophomore OL Mark Pelini and sophomore RB Braylon Heard).

Add in Marrow’s son Mike (a junior fullback who grew up near Toledo) and two Mooney seniors who will join the team next season (Courtney Love and Marcus McWilson) and you can see why Hammond feels outnumbered.

“It’s been quite a Youngstown migration,” said Marlowe, one of five BCS recruits from Mooney’s vaunted 2007 senior class. “I think I was Nebraska’s first Ohio recruit in 15 years and now there’s just a whole crew of Youngstown guys.

“I wish everyone in Youngstown could see this place. The people out here are football-crazy. It reminds me a lot of Youngstown.”

Marlowe was a late recruit for the Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1) but has justified Pelini’s faith, playing in all 41 games his first three seasons as a receiver and kick returner. This year hasn’t gone as well — he missed five games early with a broken collarbone and missed the last two games with a torn rotator cuff — but he expects to play in Saturday’s contest.

“It hasn’t been the ideal senior year but I’m battling through it,” said Marlowe, who was the fastest player on that 2007 team that finished second in the state. “It’s been awesome playing in the Big 12 when I first got here and now the Big Ten.

“I’ve had a special career.”

Mark Pelini, Bo’s nephew, joined the team as a walk-on after helping Mooney’s 2009 team finish undefeated and win the Division III state title. He was teammates with Heard, who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards that year and who has rushed for 315 yards and two TDs as a key reserve this season.

Pelini saw his first game action last weekend after starting center Justin Jackson was injured against Iowa. Pelini shares the top spot on this week’s depth chart with junior Cole Pensick, who is also the second string guard.

“It’s still football — I just tried to go in and do my best,” Mark Pelini said. “I prepare every week like I’m going to start the game, so I’m just trying to stay focused on the details and be ready to play.”

Mooney’s impact isn’t limited to Nebraska. Former Cardinal defensive tackle John Simon was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year this week, fullback Michael Zordich played a big role in Penn State’s offense this year, safety Dan McCarthy is a contributor on the nation’s No. 1 team, Notre Dame, safety Ray Vinopal has played in every game for Pitt this season — and that’s just counting players from BCS conferences.

“One thing about football is, it comes down to wins and losses,” said Mark Pelini. “At Mooney, you’re winning games and playing at a very high level, so that’s probably the reason” for the college success.

Boardman has had similar success. The Spartans have players at Ohio State (starting center Corey Linsley and reserve DE J.T. Moore), Indiana (starting DE Ryan Phillis), Ohio (WR Dayne Hammond, Chase’s younger brother) and Buffalo (RB Devin Campbell).

Chase has had several surgeries on his right ankle since injuring it as a junior, a big reason why he didn’t see the field until this year. He has five catches in 10 games for Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4), including a 30-yarder in a loss to Nebraska on Sept. 29.

“It’s fun to see guys from the area on the field making plays,” said Hammond, a 2009 Boardman High graduate. “Youngstown is about high school football and college football and it always will be. That’s the greatest part — being out representing Youngstown really well.”

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