COUNTDOWN: 30 DAYS UNTIL BUCKEYE FOOTBALL

AndyVance's picture
August 1, 2013 at 1:12p
7 Comments

They always say that one is the loneliest number, but I'm not so sure anymore. When it comes to players who wore #30 on Ohio State's roster over the past 100 years, there isn't a whole heckuva lot to talk about. Some numbers are more popular than others, and a popular jersey number tends to beget more and more successful players wearing that number (basketball and #23, for instance), becoming something of a self-reinforcing system.

"Good" numbers look more and more attractive to recruits, and less popular numbers stay the refuge of the walk-on and third-stringer.

Looking back at the annals of the men of the scarlet and gray for today's installment of our countdown to kickoff, I found that prior to 1954, 11 players had worn #30, and all of them for exactly a single season (and only six of those players earned a varsity letter). Since then, another nine "one-hit wonders" have donned the number; some went on to other numbers later in their careers, others were only with the team for a single season.

ZERO All-American or All-Big Ten selections in Buckeye history have worn #30. None, nada, zippo. Five players in history have worn the number and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, and two - yes, just two - have served as captains. We'll focus on one such player who earned both distinctions.

FLORIDA native Greg Bellisari was an Ohio State legacy. His father Art was actually Columbus born and raised, and he played strong safety from 1958-61 for coach Woody Hayes. Greg's mother Mary Beth also attended Ohio State, so although their children grew up in the Boca Raton area, the family was scarlet and gray through and through.

Greg, a Class 4A All-State linebacker at Boca Raton High School, earned the Sun-Sentinel`s Defensive Player of the Year award his senior year and committed to the Buckeyes in January 1993. "It came down to where my heart was and where I felt the most comfortable," he said. "It's my dream and goal to start next year and Ohio State had the best opportunity for me in that respect."

He turned down offers from Florida State, Michigan, Florida and Georgia to come back home, in a sense, to Columbus. Georgia was at one time considered a heavy contender for the 6-feet-2-inch, 225-pound linebacker because Art's oldest son Andy played football for a Boca Raton Bobcat team that had Mark Richt, Georgia's head football coach, as its quarterback. That tacit connection, and home visits from Gary Moeller and The Old Ball Coach himself weren't enough to overcome what Ohio State had to offer.

In the end, Buckeye head coach John Cooper landed Bellisari's services, and he played in Columbus from 1993-1996. The Buckeyes had an outstanding body of work overall during his time in Columbus, but the four seasons were largely emblematic of John Cooper's tenure as head coach: win a lot of games, lose the biggest ones more often than not. With a combined record of 41-8-1, the Buckeyes were co-Big Ten champions in '93 and '96, won two bowl games, but lost to arch-rival Michigan three of four years.

During the 1993 season, for example, the team's only loss came in the season finale at Michigan. Winning a share of the conference title and defeating an unranked BYU in the Holiday Bowl were little consolation to bruised Buckeyes smarting from what might have been, having gone into Ann Arbor the #5 team in the nation. Similarly in 1995, an undefeated team went to the Big House as the #2 team in the nation and made the long flight back to Columbus the loser again. That team would go on to lose to the #5 Tennessee Volunteers in the Buckeyes' second-straight Citrus Bowl appearance.

The Citrus Bowl was not kind to Ohio State during Bellisari's tenure, actually. Ohio State lost the 1994 edition to an angry Alabama team that was one point away from likely playing for a national championship. They took their frustration out on a Buckeye squad that had actually defeated Michigan at the Horseshoe, but had suffered a loss earlier in the season to eventual national champions Penn State.

Bellisari's team finished his senior season as potential title contenders who again came up short, coming in 11–1, with a share of the  Big Ten title after a stunning loss at home against Michigan. Ohio State went into the game undefeated and ranked #2 in the polls behind the strength of its two quarterbacks and solid defense. With junior Stanley Jackson and sophomore Joe Germaine behind the tiller, the Buckeyes were dominant throughout the majority of the season, outscoring their opponents 455–131.

Because of the late loss to the hated Wolverines, Ohio State fell from second to fourth in the polls, finishing tied in the conference standings with - get this - Northwestern. Because NW had been to the Rose Bowl the previous season, the Buckeyes earned the trip to Pasadena, and won the Rose Bowl against the Pac-10 Champion Arizona State Sun Devils.

After his senior season, Bellisari left Ohio State in the spring of 1997, signing as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was with the Bucs for 16 games. Instead of staying in Florida, the bright student came back to Columbus to finish his studies, becoming part of the university's Student-athlete Services Outreach Program when he returned in Winter Quarter of 1999. He graduated as part of the Winter 2000 class.

Bellisari said that it was a personal choice to come back to school at OSU. “It would have been easier to stay in Tampa,” he said, but the finishing his degree at Ohio State was hard to pass up. He served as a graduate assistant on Cooper's staff for a while, and eventually graduating from OSU's medical school. He later completed a specialized fellowship training program in Sports Medicine at OrthoCarolina while caring for amateur, collegiate and professional athletes, and is now a practicing orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at the Ohio Orthopedic Center of Excellence.

Younger brother Steve would eventually come to Ohio State, too, but you probably know how that story ends. Their father Art passed away in 2006; most of his kids now reside "back home" in Ohio, despite the family's years in the Sunshine State.

Another player at #30 that I was always relatively impressed with was running back Lydell Ross. ElevenWarriors alum Alex caught up with him last fall to see what he was doing since his days playing for the Buckeyes, and summarized Ross' playing days thusly:

He finished his career with a solid 2,326 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, as well as 31 receptions for 230 yards, but his on-again, off-again performances and lack of development, especially in his last season, left him open to criticism by most of Buckeye Nation. Nonetheless, he was certainly a productive player for the Buckeyes during his four years with the program, going all in for the team, and of course providing important contributions to the 2002 national title run.

That's about how I remembered it, too. One thing's for sure, Ross always looked good running away from opposing defenses.

So with an eye toward bigger things to come, that'll do it for today's installment of the countdown. If you've missed it so far, here is the archive of the series for your reading/viewing enjoyment:

Comments

Baroclinicity's picture

I wonder who Bellisari tackled on his lone solo tackle in the NFL...
 

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I remember Lydell Ross being pretty impressive as a Freshman.  And that's about as good as it got with him.  Solid role player for sure, though.  Did a decent job toting the rock whenever Mo C was hurt, and in his two years post-Mo C.  He just didn't have quite that extra it factor that Mo C had, and his reputation may have suffered due to that comparison.
I assumed Greg and Steve Bellisari were related, and thankfully I didn't make an ass out of u and me.  Greg was always the good brother...haha...

Class of 2010.

Alpo's picture

Hey Andy, just wanna say thanks for doing this. It's obviously a lot of work but I just wanted you to know its appreciated. It helps with the everyday struggle of waiting for actual football. Thanks again!

pjtobin's picture

I didn't know about Bellisari. And vaguely remember Ross. I can't thank you enough for refreshing our minds and helping to exercise our brains. I can't wait to buy you a cold drink at Brutus eat too. You da man!

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

extemporary08's picture

I always thought Ross was an unsung hero for that 2002 team...sing it!

buckguyfan1's picture

I like the 29s coming...

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Another great article Andy!  Greg Bellisari was a really good linebacker.  He was a bit undersized compared to some of the monsters that play the position, but he was very smart and tough as nails!  When we think of great LBs at OSU we always think of Chris Spielman, AJ Hawk, James Laurinaitis, Randy Gradishar, and Pepper Johnson.  I've also got to put Greg in the category of outstanding linebackers.  He may not be in the elite group, but he sure was a dominate player that helped lead us to a great Rose Bowl season! 
Go Bucks!!