Buckeye Moms: Seeing College Football from the Other Side

By Michael Citro on August 10, 2014 at 8:30a

When a young man chooses the university where he’ll play his college football, it’s obviously a very big decision in his life.

But that decision spirals outward and affects everyone around the player. Aside from the player himself, no one is as directly impacted by the college of choice as the player’s parents. Folks raise their kids, nurture them, and often make great sacrifices to ensure their boys have everything they need to be successful while they’re growing up. But when they’re ready to leave the nest, parenting doesn’t stop.

According to Darron Lee’s mother, Candice, the process of choosing a school starts early and parents are a part of that.

“I was very involved in his recruitment,” she said. “I videotaped Darron’s games and made his highlight tapes. I sent them to writers like Bill Greene and Marc Givler throughout high school. I tell parents that they have to advocate for their son. Some high school coaches aren’t very proactive about getting the college coaches to see their players. Mark Mueller at New Albany was very good.”

Ezekiel Elliott’s mom, Dawn, got so used to recruiting trips during her son’s junior and senior years in high school that the six-hour trip from St. Louis to Columbus seems like no big deal.

“St. Louis to Columbus and back seems like nothing,” she said. “I guess I'm so used to it now it doesn't seem that bad at all.”

And what did she get in return for all those long drives? Ezekiel would tease her at times by texting her that he was “taking his talents” to St. Louis-area schools like Forest Park Community College and Fontbonne University—neither of which happens to field a football team.

The parents see virtually all the same things on these visits as their sons do. They are being recruited too, because if you can sell the parents on the program, it can be the crucial opening needed to sell the player. Dawn Elliott and Candice Lee were both sold on Ohio State.

“Ohio State was the university I wanted to go to coming out of high school. But my parents didn’t have the money,” said Candice. “I wanted Darron to get the best education possible. When we moved here in 2007 from Chattanooga, we were big SEC fans.  

“Darron grew up in the shadow of Rocky Top. Alabama, Florida and Georgia were very close neighbors. And of course, Urban Meyer was busy winning championships and Darron was a huge fan. When Coach Meyer got the Ohio State job, I knew Darron was sold. We just had to find a way to get a scholarship offer. But I made it clear that coaches come and go, so he had to be sure he wanted to be a Buckeye.”

For Dawn Elliott, the coaching staff and her rapport with the other parents made Ohio State a favorite.

“If he was going to pick a school, I either wanted him (at Ohio State), Notre Dame or Mizzou,” she said. “Those were the three, just because of the relationships that I felt with the coaches from those schools. When he picked Ohio State I was perfectly fine with it.  It's such a family atmosphere. We're all very close. Candice (Lee) and Annie (Apple) in particular, we keep in touch like every day.”

The day they all became Buckeyes.
Ezekiel Elliott signed the LOI, but Dawn and Stacy became Buckeyes that day too.

Players aren’t the only ones who can be turned off by an experience during the recruiting process.

“Cincinnati was out because, while they were first to recruit Darron, they were the last to offer a scholarship. We didn’t have time for those mind games,” said Candice Lee. “I wasn’t comfortable at Illinois because Coach Beckman couldn’t remember his name. He kept calling him Duron. We didn’t appreciate negative comments about other programs by the coaches there.”

Darron Lee and Ezekiel Elliott are both fighting for spots in the starting lineup this year. While some parents might find it tough to be powerless to help their sons along on this journey, these Buckeye moms think they have the easier end of the deal.

“I wasn’t comfortable at Illinois because Coach Beckman couldn’t remember his name. He kept calling him Duron."

“It's not a big deal to me whether he starts or not,” says Dawn Elliott, matter-of-factly. “It's probably more difficult on him because he's actually doing the work. It might be harder for me if he wasn't happy but he's happy and he loves it. It's very competitive in that running back room.”

“Physically, (Darron) has the tougher battle,” agrees Candice Lee. “Mom isn’t wearing the pads and she sure as hell isn’t getting up at the crack of dawn to work out. But as a parent, you worry about your player. This is a job and if you aren’t good at it there are three or four other guys behind you ready to put in the work. Raising a son alone is hard work; being a Buckeye is even harder.”

Getting to the games can also be an issue for parents. Dawn and Stacy Elliott must drive from St. Louis to Columbus for home games. Sometimes road games are a little easier.

"Last year we had a pretty good schedule because we had road games at Northwestern, Purdue, and Illinois," said Dawn. "So all those games were fairly close to St. Louis. In fact, Purdue and Illinois I just did day trips."

Dawn missed only the Penn State game (family scheduling conflict) and the trip to California last season.

But even living locally doesn't guarantee a parent can make all the games. Candice Lee is the weekend anchor for NBC4 and that often prevents her from watching Darron in person.

"I probably won’t be at the Michigan State game this year and it’s a tough pill to swallow," she said.

Work schedule aside, attending games can be pretty pricey. 

"The flights alone will kill your budget," said Candice Lee. "Hotels are robbing you without a gun with those high prices. Some families can afford to travel to every game, but the majority can’t. It’s sad."

The new playoff format and recent addition of a Big Ten Championship Game add to the travel costs. Urban Meyer has gone on record encouraging the NCAA to allow schools to help families get to these important postseason games through a travel fund.

"It's definitely tough. As parents, you get free tickets but you don't get free travel," said Dawn Elliott. "I'm sure everybody would love to see their son play, but realistically everybody can't do it. So there should be some kind of compensation as far as helping parents get to see their sons play. I agree with Coach Meyer 100 percent."

"The conference game is doable, but those other games alone could cost me $5 thousand or more," adds Candice.

So what’s the toughest thing about being a Buckeye mom?

“The only thing I struggle with is, at his position, Ezekiel's always either getting hit or blocking, so it's physical,” said Dawn Elliott. “That's my biggest fear, I guess, is him getting hurt.”

Candice Lee has a much different struggle.

“I change shirts a thousand times on game day,” she said. “I literally can’t decide between a scarlet or gray shirt. I need to get a number 43 jersey to end the confusion. But then, I won’t be able to decide between a red jersey and white jersey.”


Comments Show All Comments

DaytonBuck1980's picture

Great write up Micheal on an interesting perspective that I've rarely thought about. Would love to hear about more parents experiences. 

Still not giving a damn for the whole state of Michigan. 

+3 HS
jpbuckeye's picture

Totally agree. Awesome read.

The family photo of the Elliotts at signing day is priceless. The look on his Dad's face brought a lump to my throat. The emotion is palpable.

+3 HS
jkleva's picture

Hats off to these families and the sacrifices that they make! 

+4 HS
dubjayfootball90's picture

Awesome article. I pray that I can have a moment like the Elliott's had in the picture above. That is the perfect picture that captures family, hard work, love, and a dream come true. Just plain awesome.

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

+5 HS
MN Buckeye's picture

The parents have been huge for recruiting, as well. Love the perspectives from the moms.

+3 HS
sharks's picture

Very nice art- I'm sure it is incredibly helpful when recruiting a kid that his parents have a clue.  Sounds like both players come from strong families and have tons of support.

Fortunately or not, the only other time you hear about a parent is a situation like the two half-brothers from SEC country whose mom (even though she's cute) was doing an LSU chant after one picked Alabama and was less than thrilled when the other went to Florida (I think).

Or the whole McDowell debacle, although you could argue both sides of that one.

A man got to have a code...

+1 HS
DC-town's picture

Great story and it's great to hear the 'family atmosphere' at osu...never get sick of hearing that.

it's going to be interesting to see what happens to the travel budgets and how far the extra perks go once the obannon and Kessler trials play out.  Whenever these policies are made, u know some schools are going to use it as another avenue to buy players (for say 180k) but however they do it, reimbursing families for travel costs should be a priority....doesn't have to be every game, but definitely make an effort to makes sure everyone can see their kids for some live games

'Piss excellence' -RB

+2 HS
OSUpawn's picture

Great parents = great kids. 

I believe the SEC players put their pants on one leg at a time like we do.

+4 HS
Habu71's picture

Great write up Michael, thanks for bringing this perspective to light.  The role I've played in athletics has allowed me to travel quite a bit. I can tell you that the cost can be a heavy burden in many instances. I listened to and read about Urban's comments concerning assistance for the families and couldn't agree more. I'll be at the Navy game, but I'll be there knowing that some parents, guardians, etc. that have played a great role in the lives of those Buckeye players just can't do that part of it. We've watched Damon Webb's family, as well as the Elliott, Apple, Bosas, and many more go to great lengths to show others the greatness of TOSU. It saddens me that some of them won't be able to be there many times because of the high cost. Kudos to those family members that are staying positive, hanging in there, and supporting from a distance until something can be done for them. 

+4 HS
BUCKSOMIES's picture

Thanks Michael for this insight into the moms of our recruits and players.  I for one would enjoy more on the parents and families of our players. Very good sir.

+2 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Cincinnati ... Holding out an offer with Lee ... Hilarious. 

+7 HS
buckeye_chick's picture

The Elliotts attend the same tailgate I do, so I've had the chance to chat with both of them during last season. They're really down-to-earth, wonderful people.

The quote about Beckman reminded me of a story in John U. Bacon's book Fourth and Long. When PSU first got their sanctions, apparently Illinois sent lots of assistants to Happy Valley trying to talk them into jumping ship & going to Champaign. It pissed off so many Lions that one spit on the ground in front of Beckman after kicking their ass later that season. 

+1 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Hate to say this about an Ohio native and ex OSU assistant, but Beckman seems like a tool. 

+2 HS
albinomosquito's picture

My cousin played at Toledo under Beckman and had nothing bad to say about him.  I was always quietly rooting for him to succeed, but he's digging his own grave there.

BroJim's picture

Shout out to my mom for doing all my football laundry for so many years! 

I season my simple food with hunger

+3 HS
Habu71's picture

Thanks for that reminder. I created a post for those of us that may also need to send props to those that took good care of us. 

+1 HS
jpbuckeye's picture

Great idea. Do it and do it often. One of my greatest moments was being able to tell my Dad that I was proud to be his son; while he was a patient at the James. I sure miss that man.


+1 HS
Habu71's picture

Thanks for sharing, JP. I'm sure hearing that from you meant a lot. I too share some memories from the James that ended with me missing someone quite a bit. Those memories mean a great deal to me.

+1 HS
2002osubuck's picture

Having the parents involved in the program is great. They become defacto recruiters and advertisers for the culture and the school. I think it's great for the players and the coaches, having the families involved as much as possible, it makes for a lot more healthy environment for everyone. Its great to see Elliott and Hilliards dads out there promoting the school. The families should absolutely be provided travel expenses for any game they want to attend, no matter what. Especially, when you talk about the conference championship and the playoffs. Most fans can barely afford one big game, let alone all of them, and possibly for 4 years in a row. Thats a ton of $$$ just to watch your own kid play, while they provide the entertainment for millions of others.

+1 HS
Gray Box's picture
+2 HS
OSUBias's picture

Oh excellent # choice. Don't remember many explosive 21's for us, seems like a good RB number. 

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

crusher's picture

The Elliott family has a 247 composite score of 5 stars. Nothing but class across the board. It's not a mistake that Zeke is such a great kid.

A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men

+4 HS
Findog5's picture

I have really enjoyed watching these ladies conduct themselves in a manner that represents their boys and the university in such a classy manner. We know why their sons are of such high character!

Raleigh Buckeye

bucks4nuts's picture

Timmy Beckman doing big things 

"To The House"

OSUFlash's picture

Elliot seems like the Aaron Craft of the football team. Great young man, relentless worker, high character, great parents, fantastic leader. Like Craft he'll leave his mark at Ohio State in more than just football.

Great picture of him and his parents!


+1 HS
vwhiegs57's picture

Raising a son alone is hard work; being a Buckeye is even harder.”

I love this quote!

CGroverL's picture

That is the one thing that I absolutely hate about "SEC fans". See, here in Buckeye Nation, you have Buckeye fans, not Big Ten fans. You root for one team, not a conference of 16 teams....

Candice Lee said something to the effect of ,"Before we moved here...we were SEC fans". While I realize that she may have been talking more of Darron's recruiting process, I don't buy it. I live in a place full of "SEC fans". Most of them started off last season wearing their Florida gear. Well, until started the slide that ended up in a 4-8 season....After that there was NO GATOR GEAR anywhere...but you noticed all kinds of other gear of "winning" SEC teams walking around. The SEC had a few great years where they had the best conference. That is most probably no longer true. Now, all that is left is remnants of a bunch of fans that are falling back to their favorite teams "for now" but maybe, just maybe, they will realize exactly what they were. What were they? Simple bandwagon fans that rooted for the best SEC team (whichever SEC team that might be each year), only to fall back into the same rut each season...for about 7 seasons. I hope this bandwagon thing is over now as for the last 5 years it has been easier to talk to a fan of TSUN than a so-called "SEC fan" that sometimes had 3 different favorite teams in 3 weeks. I figured this out by talking to a fan on a different site. On his "profile" he claimed to be a fan of Mississippi State...but in 2011, his THREE favorite teams were Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina at one point in the season.

We Buckeye fans don't necessarily like other Big Ten teams and although ,unlike Florida, we don't have FIVE RIVALRY GAMES. WE love our conference because of things like rivalry as almost every game IS a rivalry. The Big Ten has fans that root their teams on to a Big Ten Championship. That is kinda why every Big Ten team's fans storm the field after almost every win (especially when a team knocks off our Buckeyes). The SEC is different though. After games nowadays (especially when the games are close), the fans of each team go nearly hand in hand yelling "S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C". They all have 16 favorite teams until one of the SEC's teams reach the National Championship game, when those fans of all 16 of those SEC teams all become fans of that one team in the National Title game. Afterwards (for a long while before last season) those SEC fans then become teams of that SEC team that won the title until around September of the next year.

I don't dislike "SEC fans" because I think their teams are superior and I'm jealous. I've changed one favorite team in my entire life....I'm now a Blue Jackets Hockey fan because Ohio now has a Hockey team to root for. I dislike "SEC fans" for changing their favorite teams because their favorite teams lose 2 football games...and the bulk of these "SEC fans" DO change their favorite teams. Why do they do it? That is simple, too. I'll use Florida as those are the fans as I know the most of....If an SEC team had won the title last season, Gator fans would be able to say, "We went 4-8 only because we play in the toughest conference. Having an SEC team win the title is their way of having proof that they have the best conference. Thanks to Florida State, if you have noticed, SEC teams are ultimately weaker in the Coaches Poll and SEC fans have been quiet as mice. Nice for once, isn't it?

"I hope they're last in everything". One of Meyer's comments when speaking of TTUN after being hired at Ohio State.



-1 HS