Salem’s Kirk Lowdermilk starred at OSU, in NFL

Kirk Lowdermilk caught the eye of then-Ohio State coach Earle Bruce in the state wrestling meet

By ryan buck

In the spring of 1993, Salem High graduate and former Ohio State standout Kirk Lowdermilk accepted a three-year, $6 million free agent contract with the Indianapolis Colts.

From 1986 to 1992, as the anchor of the Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line, he proved to be arguably the best center in the NFL.

Lowdermilk left Colts owner Robert Irsay’s house that day with the largest contract ever for an offensive lineman.

“For about 10 minutes,” he laughed as he described the experience by phone.

In actuality, it was about one day.

The Colts then signed offensive tackle Will Wolford to a $7.5 million deal, the result of a spending spree on coveted protection for a generation of young quarterbacks that had taken the league by storm. The Colts’ QB was Jeff George.

The money and the attention never changed the man who was born and raised in small towns in northeastern Ohio, however.

“I don’t think it was hard,” Lowdermilk said. “You still have to compete every day to keep your job. Once the contract’s signed, it’s over. You’re still fighting to keep your job.”

The story is not all that different from the way the three-sport standout at Salem had to fight to earn a Division I football scholarship.

Despite being dominant as a two-way lineman, the overlooked Lowdermilk says he had exactly one Division I offer after his senior football season in 1980.

“My only choice was the University of Toledo until after wrestling season,” Lowdermilk said.

A friend from Salem, Dr. Henry Maxim, tipped off his friend in Columbus, then-Ohio State coach Earle Bruce.

“Dr. Maxim called him and said, ‘You might want to take a look at this guy.’ So they came and watched me wrestle at the state tournament,” Lowdermilk said.

Lowdermilk dominated, winning the heavyweight division at St. John Arena on Ohio State’s campus.

He had earned his offer, thanks to the wrestling prowess he credits with enriching his football abilities.

“You learn about balance, especially for linemen and linebackers,” Lowdermilk said. “It’s probably the best thing for football. You learn about leverage and how to use it.”

He signed a letter of intent before he and his family left Columbus, then returned in the fall.

Lowdermilk anchored the Buckeyes’ offensive line for four seasons and earned All-Big Ten honors as a senior in 1984. That same season, he helped Ohio State to a berth in the Rose Bowl.

“The experience, as you can imagine, was fabulous,” he said.

The Minnesota Vikings made Lowdermilk their third-round pick in that spring’s NFL draft. He was the 59th overall selection.

He spent eight seasons there before four seasons with the Colts and retired after the 1996 season, playing in 178 games in his career.

Lowdermilk did not hang around the NFL for long. He returned home and settled in Carrollton, where he and his wife raised four children.

He assisted with the Warriors’ football program for 10 seasons until his son, John, graduated and moved on to the University of Iowa, where he is a defensive back for the Hawkeyes.

One of northeastern Ohio’s countless football success stories could not escape it as a professional and, of course, when he moved home.

“The older you get and get around, you realize how well it’s respected around the country,” Lowdermilk said. “When you think of northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania, it’s considered a hot spot.”

After his retirement from the NFL, a family member and a friend approached him about starting a business.

His potential partners had years of experience in automobile and construction maintenance. His curiosity followed, bolstered by the confidence he gained from his love of sports.

“I think that’s what makes athletics so special,” he said. “In order to be good at what you do, you have to be competitive at what you do.”

The trio has quietly built the project, Eastern Resource Service, Inc., into a diverse 24-hour operation that sends mechanics to oil and gas sites in the region to assist with equipment issues.

On Oct. 19, Lowdermilk will return to Columbus to see John play against his beloved Buckeyes.

He’s thrilled to be there with his family and take in the experience, but he did not ponder the thought of whether it would be difficult to see his son take on his school.

“It won’t,” he said. “I won’t have a hard time cheering for my son. I loved my time there. I love Ohio State and going back to campus. But, as they say, blood is thicker than water.”

If Lowdermilk has one regret, it is the bachelor’s degree he never completed.

He returned to school, at YSU, to finish his degree in mechanical engineering during his first offseason with the Vikings.

“My wife gave birth to our first daughter on the day of my first midterm,” said Lowdermilk, who was only a few credits shy of graduating. “I still don’t know how I did on that test.

“I wish I would’ve (finished). I still kick myself for not doing it, but it worked out OK.”

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