Navy Veteran and Ohio State Leader, Craig Cataline is an All-American Buckeye

By Kyle Rowland on November 11, 2013 at 9:15a

For many of the 105,000 fans in Ohio Stadium on any given Saturday, the drum cadence of the ramp entrance and first chords of “Buckeye Battle Cry” stir emotions into overdrive. The Horseshoe literally reverberates with a mighty cheer.

But there’s at least one Buckeye in the stadium, on the field in fact, that draws inspiration from another song on game days. It too is directed by Jon Waters and played by The Ohio State University Marching Band. The person is Navy veteran-turned-football player Craig Cataline, a hulking 6-foot-1, 225-pound walk-on linebacker and special teams ace. The song is the Star-Spangled Banner.

“I stop and think about my two brothers. It’s constantly on my mind every time,” Cataline told Eleven Warriors, reciting his national anthem ritual. “I see guys not really paying attention to the flag getting raised. That’s an important thing. You have to take pride in the flag. It’s part of what we defend. I’m a history guy, too. A lot went into that flag. It’s a big deal to me, to some guys it’s not.”

Cataline, a national resource management major, isn’t just some history buff who’s strapping on football pads. He served four years in the United States Navy after being named all-state linebacker his senior year of high school at Grandview Heights. Brothers Ryan and Eric served in the Army and as Craig’s high school graduation approached, he knew college wasn’t the choice for him at the time.

Serving the country was always on Cataline’s list of life possibilities. Older brothers making the leap made it a no-brainer. Before he was even enlisted, Cataline received his first orders from Ryan and Eric: join the Navy.

“My brother had just gotten back from back-to-back deployments to Iraq and he thought it’d be a better idea to join the Navy,” Cataline said. “He was in the infantry and he saw some pretty serious combat. So that’s why I did that.”

The four years as a member of the security force of the Navy included a yearlong stint in Iraq and Kuwait – and living on an oilrig up to five months at a time in the Persian Gulf. Cataline described the experience as never seeing land and being on a metal platform that looks like it will fall into the ocean.

Craig Cataline is a special teams savant.

Oh, and the heat. In the summer, the temperature can be 120 degrees.

“Everyone’s counting down the days,” he said.

It makes two-a-days during August not so oppressive. And “Bloody Tuesdays” don’t have the same effect on a 25-year-old Navy veteran as they might on an 18-year-old true freshman who’s never been away from home.

“He’s what you would imagine from a guy that served in the Navy for a while – tough as nails,” said head coach Urban Meyer. “He’s completely committed and incredible discipline. He goes 100 miles an hour. I wish he was more athletic because we’d find a way to get him on the field more. He’s got some talent.”

Said Cataline: “I just think it comes with a little maturity and understanding that you’re going to be all right making it through a two-hour practice. You try not to look at things as a whole and instead look at things as small victories.”

His first step post-Navy was a brief stay at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., where Cataline studied global securities and intelligence studies for an eventual career in the FBI or CIA. But the life of a government agency employee didn’t appeal to him anymore. So after a semester Cataline returned to Columbus. Suddenly, Ohio State football came into view.

The ultimate detour began at a central Ohio Urban Active gym. Cataline was working out one day when former Buckeye defensive end Lawrence Wilson, a personal trainer, struck up a conversation with the patron who looked far different than the other clientele. Wilson encouraged Cataline to contact Greg Gillum, then the director of player personnel.

“Everything went from there,” Cataline said.

In his first career game, the 2012 season opener versus Miami (Ohio), Cataline played a role in a special teams touchdown after he ripped the ball loose from the punter with Bradley Roby recovering it in the end zone.

“I remember that I wasn’t even set on the line fast enough,” Cataline said. “I think they speed punted us. I just saw the ball go over the punter’s head.”

But just as soon as he was making an impact, Cataline was sidelined for the rest of the season. He suffered compartment syndrome and calcification in his quads, which slowed the circulation of blood in his leg. It put Cataline on the mend for nearly four months until he could take part in football-related activities again. 

“That was a little depressing,” he said. “I really couldn’t do anything. I struggled with why I was there and didn’t know if I was going to play this year because I felt like I didn’t have a place on the team. Luckily, I got better and got moved to the linebackers room with Coach Fickell and things turned around from there.”

Special teams has become Cataline’s personal playground. His two tackles don’t tell the entire story. He’s one of the unit’s leaders and promotes an invaluable work ethic and attention to detail. Cataline has earned respect and admiration from his teammates and the man at the top.

“I didn’t walk on just to be able to wear a jersey on the sideline.”

“He has a very unique story. He’s one of my – arguably my favorite – but one of my favorite players,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s very powerful on kickoff cover. He’s a very valuable guy on our team right now, just his demeanor, his leadership, his toughness.”

Cataline, a junior, netted his first “champion” honor of the 2013 for his special teams prowess in the Buckeyes’ 63-14 win over Penn State.

“Everyone likes a little bit of praise. It’s not why I do it, though,” Cataline explained. “I just have the mentality that I’m going to go as hard as I can. Some of these guys like Ryan Shazier and Braxton Miller are freak athletes. I don’t have that kind of footwork and I’m not as fast as those guys.

“I don’t know if I’m mentally tougher or it’s because I’m older, but I have a different mentality that’s able to carry me through some things a little easier. I’m not going to break mentally. I think that’s my strongest point.”

Year 1 was spent in the fullback meeting room and his second season as a Buckeye means hours in the linebackers room. But Cataline knows where his value on the team lies.

“My role on the team is to impact special teams,” he said. “I walked-on, I understand I’m not there to be developed as a linebacker like Mike Mitchell or Trey Johnson. They were recruited to be linebackers, and I get that. I don’t dwell on it. I just try to impact special teams as much as I can.

“It’s definitely something that’s way bigger than me. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I just want to be able to contribute. I didn’t walk on just to be able to wear a jersey on the sideline.”

As the calendar flips to Veterans Day, Cataline’s mind wonders back to the Middle East, where friends are protecting freedoms that he treasures. On Saturdays in the fall, past experiences flood back to him on that first verse – O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light.

“I have a lot of friends and met a lot of guys and girls and chances are I’ll never see them again,” Cataline said. “As much as you want to be in contact and see them again, you might not get the chance. I think about the people that are still serving and the ones that are overseas right now, still in Afghanistan taking fire.

“I like to think I appreciate where I am. I don’t like when people don’t appreciate this country. There are a lot way worse out there.”


[Photos: Ohio State Dept. of Athletics]


Comments Show All Comments

Toolface4's picture

I have a part time job at U.S Cellular field (home of the White Sox), I think people would surprised at the number of people who don't even stop what they are doing, let alone watch the flag, when the national anthem is played. It is pretty disgusting that people can't stop for 2 minutes and pay respect to our service men and women who have sacrificed a great deal to protect us. Thanks to Craig and all other veterans and active duty military

JeffCoBuck's picture

As a middle school wrestling coach, I stress to my guys that when the national anthem is played, everything stops.  Not even whispered talking is acceptable.  If they "forget", I "remind" them.  Both of my grandfathers were in WWII, and both of my younger brothers served in the Navy and are in the active reserves.  It helps that my younger of the two brothers is my assistant coach.  He's a lot less tolerant than I, lol.
As far as the article, very nice piece.  Thanks for sharing, and thanks to Craig and all our veterans. 

BuckeyeChief's picture

Awesome! I had dreams of doing this when I retired (6'1" 230) but I am waaayyy to slow and unatheletic!
Chris, keep doing your thing, making us proud!

"2014 National with it!!!"

harleymanjax's picture

He's like Rudy........ONLY WAY BETTER!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

nrbuckguy's picture

Thanks for the great article Kyle, I had no idea that he was even in the military.   Thank you Craig and all of you other buckeye veterans for your service!

In Urban We Trust

Hovenaut's picture

Although I don't believe the media would jump all over Craig Cataline like they have more well-known (good and bad) Buckeyes, this is attention well-deserved.

Buckeye, Navy vet, role model.

Well done, young man.

osuxrow07's picture

Wonder if he's ever heard the band play the Navy Hymn.

Set the Earth Reverberating

niblick's picture

I've "insulted" many a sportsgoers at the horseshoe and at GABP for a Reds' game.  When the national anthem begins, if you're within arms reach of me, you WILL remove your hat and show respect for 2 minutes, period.  I don't care if you have your hands are full of $8 nachos or if you're tired, lazy or just plain dumb.  For those 2 minutes, thou shall show respect.

denner's picture

2004 Michigan game.  4 Michigan fans (students I think) in front of me did not stand for the national anthem, because our band was playing, wtf? They did not even remove their hats.  I barked jabs at them the whole game.   They left early in the 4th quarter.  I cannot believe how many kids (and adults) have no respect for The Star-Spangled Banner.
Also hate when pop stars ruin the anthem with "vocal runs" or sing it too slowly.  Just my opinion.

Toolface4's picture

I don't know how many of you are blackhawks fans or familiar with the hawks anthem, I'm curious to hear peoples thoughts outside of Chicago, I for one think it is a great show of patriotism, but I have heard fans of other teams say they think it is disrespectful.

I can't figure out how to attach a video off my phone, but there are plenty on YouTube. The '91 all-star game is probably the best example and still gives me chills

Maffro's picture

Are you talking about when they cheer during it? I think it's cool.

Toolface4's picture

Yes, some sing along, some cheer and clap. Story is Edmonton fans in the mid 80's booed / disrespected the U.S. anthem, so when the series returned to Chicago our fans responded by cheering on the anthem (and of course staying silent and respecting Canada's)

It is a tradition that remains, they bring out two veterans on the ice before every game, my brother ( Air Force) was lucky enough to get that honor for game 1 vs. The kings in this years playoffs

harleymanjax's picture

I never had the honor of serving our country, (I was too fat) but over the years I have had to put a few people in their place who were not being respectful when the anthem plays. It is one of the few things that really bothers me to the point that I WILL say something about it!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

Maestro's picture

Thanks for writing this.

vacuuming sucks

nm_buck's picture

Leaders like this young man exemplify all that is great with our country.  Thank you for your service Craig.  And thank you for being an invaluable part of this Buckeye team.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

ibuck's picture

I am glad people like Cataline and his brothers have served/are serving in the military, and who appreciate this country. And I'm glad he's a Buckeye.
At the same time, there are false patriots who idolize the flag, which is a symbol (not substance) of our country, and disregard the constitution, the actual substance that specifies our freedoms. Frequently these false patriots wrap themselves in the symbol while denying our freedoms. It's wise to be cautious of such people, while we thank and support our veterans, especially those who need medical or psychological help after their service. These vets deserve substantive care, not mere lip service and reduced benefits.

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

ScarletGray43157's picture

The Constitution is what those who take The Oath are sworn to defend and protect.  The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence are priceless documents, unique in the history of mankind.  Agreed regarding our treatment of those who have served. 

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

ogama843's picture

Ohio State must have unbelievably elite "athletic" players. That guy is a beast! If he is not "athletic" enough then that makes me slime mold (which pulls me down one rank from slightly mobile potato).

Holy Buckeye!

hetuck's picture

I think other players are learning from him about anthem etiquette. I notice most place their hands over their hearts. I wish it would spread to the MBB team. Now I'd encourage Craig to take it a step further. Congress passed legislation two years ago making it proper for veterans to render a hand salute during the playing of the National Anthem. As a veteran, he is entitled to this and would recognize his special status among the players. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

ScarletGray43157's picture

I would have given you 100 upvotes for this if I could.  I want to see it happen.

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

Congress passed legislation two years ago making it proper for veterans to render a hand salute during the playing of the National Anthem.

I am a United States Marine, I do not salute unless in uniform, under cover or under arms.
Congress can best serve by keeping their noses out of things that don't concern them.

Timmah's picture

HA!  I was going to say the same thing but you beat me to the punch!
2881 91-97


Go Bucks!

Curt Heinrichs's picture

Great attitude. A lot of people, not just football players, can learn a lesson from this story.
I appreciated the part that he knows he wasn't brought in to be a linebacker, but he wants to help on special teams and make an impact. That is fantastic. I'm glad Craig is a Buckeye.

mshaf's picture

Thank you for your service Craig.

buckuar's picture

Thank you, Craig, for your and your brothers' service.
Thank you, Kyle, for writing this and bringing this impressive young man to the forefront. 
I'll be watching for him on Saturday for sure!

sharks's picture

I understand that this post was prompted by Veterans Day, but I wouldn't mind seeing Better Know a Buckeye-type posts for our special teams aces, walk-ons, etc. We all know Miller, Hyde, and Shazier; but I'd like to learn more about guys like Cataline.

A man got to have a code...

acBuckeye's picture

Thank you, Craig. Buckeye Nation salutes you.

ScarletGray43157's picture

“I like to think I appreciate where I am. I don’t like when people don’t appreciate this country. There are a lot way worse out there.”

Well said, young man.
Thank you for your service to our country.

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

00Buck's picture

ON THIS VET's day........  thank you Craig for being a protector of my family...  I am a former Marine.......and Vietnam veteran......  and I CARE........  SEMPER FI..........  and thanks to all of you Buckeye fans for your love and honor of this great nation  "THE"  UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Upon this Rock, I build my house....and Let no man put asunder

nfischer's picture

once a Marine, always a Marine...never a former Marine.  Thanks for your service.

hit_the_couch's picture

Oil platform is the easy life, no threats at all; I would take that all day over pulling security in Sadiyah, Sadr city or Abu Dashr again as 11B.
I wanna give a shout out to all the vets today (even the paper pushers), especially my combat arms brethren. To all my boys from A & B Btry 1/21 that were KIA in OIF II, we miss you big time.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

iBuckeye's picture

I'm not sure what it is about your post, and I apologize if it's just me, but your attitude is very off-putting. Not sure if you meant for it to come off that way, but you make it sound like you are actively trying to take away from what Cataline did. Like cause you were 11B infantry that anyone that isn't has the easy life. Even going so far as thanking "even the paper pushers." You didn't have to separate them. Just say thanks to all vets and leave it at that. Again, sorry if it's not what you intended, but that's how this seems.

hit_the_couch's picture

I'm sorry, but did you read the article? He stated he wanted Navy life because his brother(s) were 11B and it wasn't for him due to the combat seen. I know Navy does sees the occasional threat; not everyone is completely safe or has easy.
I played/ was re-classed as 11B for combat (twice), but was actually artillery (only did my actual job in garrison); we do have a very different outlook.
Combat arms (in any branch) feel very different about the rest of the military because combat arms actually do the fighting and are asked to do things far outside of anyone's comfort zone. We are often very vocal about it, but not really outside of our respective units. Yes, the majority of the military has it somewhat easy to an extent. All of this isn't something I can explain the way it should probably be.
I won't even get into how much active units (any type) hate guard/ reserves, or how much trash each branch talks about the others. It's something we do, and it's not going anywhere. I'm sure we appreciate everyone because we need the pushers, logistics etc for support. My Marine friends are pretty bad about hazing.
Yeah, you pretty much completely misinterpreted what I wrote.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

nfischer's picture

You have an unhealthy dose of arrogance....

hit_the_couch's picture

Just an opinion observed during my decade of service. Don't like it, ignore it; ain't hurting my feelings.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

nfischer's picture

The very concept of "service" or "serving others" precludes elevating oneself above them.

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

If you feel the need to belittle the service of others then you should sit down & re-evaluate your personal issues.
The following men gave theirs while carrying out your 'easy' life...

BM1 Michael Pernaselli

SM2 Christopher E. Watts

DC3 Nathan B. Bruckenthal

Jason Priestas's picture

I would gladly take 11B life over the rigors and danger of being in a Marine Corps infantry company again.

[See how easy this is.]

Kaceybrown's picture

I've know 4 former infantry marines that changed over to the Army infantry and not a single 1 would tell you the marines have it harder. It's as close to the exact sane as u can get. The only things I really remember them saying the marines are better at is drill and ceremony and 1 said discipline. Discipline is dependent upon the leaders in the unit and the unit we were in was awful and I believe was misrepresentation of the Army. I can't disagree about the drill and ceremony because I've only seen 1 side. 

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

You really missed the point Jason was trying to make.

Kaceybrown's picture

I understand his point, my response wasn't intended to be directed towards it. I was stating my opinion on the big rivalry between Army 11B's and USMC infantry. 

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

The point is that a thread about a Buckeye who happens to be a Navy Veteran is neither the time nor the place for a half-assed dick measuring contest.

hit_the_couch's picture

[See how easy this is.]

Older brothers making the leap made it a no-brainer. Before he was even enlisted, Cataline received his first orders from Ryan and Eric: join the Navy.
“My brother had just gotten back from back-to-back deployments to Iraq and he thought it’d be a better idea to join the Navy,” Cataline said. “He was in the infantry and he saw some pretty serious combat. So that’s why I did that.”

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

theOSUdug's picture

You can always tell a D-1 athlete in the gym from the other gym rats....I like that is how he was found.
Solid article Kyle.

Ethos's picture

I could always tell when I saw the bulging veins and screaming grunts even when all they did was sit down, that I wasn't looking at a Buckeye athlete.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

lsjSnail's picture

I got to play a round of disc golf with him at Hoover. Great guy. He needed to throw some discs more suited to his strength LOL.

rachaelcataline's picture

Still surreal that this is my baby brother!! So proud of him and our older brothers!! Great article and a well-deserved tribute. Craig has always been a tough kid with endless drive and determination. I'm such a proud sister!!

Jason Priestas's picture

We bet. Thanks for stopping by.

ColPhiTau's picture

I had a fraternity brother, Phi Tau, Class of '66, Jim Oates who was in the Navy and then played Center. He became an enormously successful executive.

Class '66

Seattle Linga's picture

Thank you for your dedication Craig. You're truly an inspiration for everyone on the team.