By Joe Scalzo
When Corey Linsley was 6, he dressed up like Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre for Halloween.
The kid who grew up in Bernie Kosar’s hometown had a Favre jersey, a plastic Packers helmet and a little yellow cheesehead.
And on Saturday afternoon, after his childhood team drafted him with the 21st pick of the fifth round, he tweeted out a picture of him wearing a bright yellow Packers shirt with the words “Ice Bowl ’67,” in honor of the famous NFL championship game between Green Bay and the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field.
“To see that Caller ID come up Green Bay, Wisconsin, it was unbelievable,” said Linsley, a Boardman High graduate who played center at Ohio State. “It’s like my childhood dream came true.”
Linsley, who was the only Mahoning Valley native drafted this weekend, will be the third Spartan lineman in the NFL, joining Browns starting guard John Greco and Broncos backup center Steve Vallos.
“For three linemen from one high school to be in the NFL, that’s unbelievable,” said Linsley, who spent Saturday in Columbus because he knew he’d have to fly to Green Bay today. “I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Linsley joins a team that just lost its starting center, Evan Diedrich-Smith, to free agency. He’ll compete with Green Bay’s 2013 fourth-rounder, J.C. Tretter, and Garth Gerhart, who originally signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2012.
“I’m aware of that [opening at center] but really I’m just trying to bring my talent to the table and ... do whatever I can to help the team,” he said. “Regardless of what happens, how much playing time I get, I’m not worried about any of that.
“I just have to put my head down and work hard. That’s what I’ve always done and I’ll continue to do.”
Linsley was a late bloomer, barely playing on his middle school team. His high school coach, D.J. Ogilvie, said he had to talk him into playing freshman football. He battled injuries as a freshman and spent more time on the field as a member of the marching band (he played trumpet) than as a player.
His sophomore year was a different story.
“The light bulb literally clicked on one day,” Ogilvie said. “He went from playing JV to being a starter on varsity in one week.”
By the end of his junior year, he was dominating his Division I opponents in the Federal League. At the end of the season, Ogilvie told his assistants, “Corey Linsley will play in the NFL.”
“A couple coaches said, ‘Oh, you can’t say that about a junior,’ ” Ogilvie said. “So I said, ‘Let me repeat this one more time: Corey Linsley will play in the NFL.’”
For his first few years at Ohio State, that seemed unlikely. Linsley started his Buckeye career at guard, but struggled on and off the field. After being suspended for two games in 2011 for violating team rules, he decided he needed to change.
“I obviously wasn’t going down the football path I wanted to go and Coach [Urban] Meyer asked me, ‘Are you going to commit yourself for this football team?’ ” said Linsley, who started his final 26 games at OSU at center. “I really put my foot in the ground and started to make myself a better person and it translated to the football field. I did everything I could to be the best Buckeye I could.
“That’s what sparked the change. I gave my heart to the team and that’s what I plan to do for the Packers, too.”
Linsley (6-foot-3, 305) is known for his strength — he bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times at February’s NFL combine — and his run-blocking. Green Bay’s offensive line coach, James Campen, also praised Linsley’s football mind (“He really is what we’re looking for from a mental standpoint”) and his toughness.
“He goes after people,” Campen said. “He uses his strength and his leverage to his advantage and once he has you locked up, he’s a very difficult person to get off of.”
Linsley got more than 150 text messages on Saturday — including Vallos, who texted him some advice — but before he could respond to all of them, he sent out this tweet: “If I haven’t texted back I will! Going to church to give thanks and reflect back on all of the people who have been there for me! Thank you!”
In a phone conversation Saturday evening, he seemed overwhelmed by the support.
“They’re all good people,” he said. “That’s the kind of people you get in Youngstown. Nobody was looking for anything.”
And after thanking all the Boardman coaches he could remember (sorry guys, this story isn’t long enough to list all of you), he decided to just thank everyone who “dedicated their time to making me a better football player, a better person and getting me to this moment.
“I couldn’t be happier representing such a fine school and such a fine program like Boardman and a city like Youngstown. I’m anxious to carry on the tradition they have there.”