Players and coaches from the 1985
St. Xavier (Cincinnati)
football team have few anecdotal tales or specific memories about him. No one seems to recollect his exact schemes or be able to recite significant conversations or credos.
What they vividly remember about Urban Meyer and his only season as a high school football coach was simply a feeling - one hot, lasting sensation sprinkled with pepper and smothered in Tabasco sauce.
"Passionate," said John Sabatalo
, the team's offensive coordinator that season. "Lots of vigor and energy."
Said starting quarterback and co-captain Greg Frey
: "Intense and focused."
Said defensive back, running back and co-captain
: "He was in your face both ways – if you did something right or something wrong. I think true football players gravitate toward that. Kids feed off of it."
Specht certainly did. He became a coach himself and returned to St. Xavier, leading the Bombers to a pair of state titles and nearly an .800 winning percentage since taking over in 2003. He's also USA Football's Under-19 national head coach whose team starts practice this week for the World Championships
in Austin, Texas.
At the prep level, Specht is the coaching equivalent of Meyer, one of college football's most successful and polarizing figures who returned to his home state late last fall to take over at Ohio State.
The two connect regularly now, not to rekindle St. Xavier football memories, but to talk clinics and recruiting, a subject and skill Meyer is renowned for and a big reason for his vast success.
Despite sanctions that included a one-year bowl ban and the loss of nine scholarships due to infractions before he arrived, Meyer has helped the Buckeyes land five early Top-100 recruits
from the Class of 2013. Two are from Ohio and one each from Texas, Florida and Missouri.
Ohio State ranks ninth in the college team recruiting rankings
"He's already made a huge impact with his presence alone," Specht said. "I think beyond recruiting there will be a big change in culture. It might take a year or two but Urban's way is dramatically different than (previous) coach (Jim) Tressel.
"I have the utmost respect for both men, but they are just different. With Jim, he enjoyed talking about life. I wouldn't call him a philosopher, but he took a very cerebral approach. That's not to say Urban isn't cerebral, but he's just more emotional and aggressive. He's definitely dynamic."
Specht and the Bombers found that out shortly after Meyer stepped on the St. Xavier campus 27 years ago.
Meyer was born in Toledo, grew up in Ashtabula and graduated from Sts. John & Paul (Ashtabula)
in 1982. A terrific athlete, he was selected in the 13th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Atlanta Braves and spent two years in the minor leagues as a shortstop at the same time he played defensive back at the University of Cincinnati.
It was while at Cincinnati that he earned an internship at St. Xavier under legendary coach Steve Rasso to assist with the defensive backs. Specht, at the time an overachieving 5-9, 180-pound all-league safety and running back, said he knew nothing about Meyer, then 21.
That didn't last long.
"It was obvious right away he was a very intense guy," Specht said.
The first week of practice in a conditioning and pursuit drill, the ball was thrown to a receiver, who would sprint down the field. Defensive backs were supposed to take an angle and try to tag the receiver.
Meyer made sure the DBs were challenged.
"I remember him ripping his shirt off and running as an offensive player," Specht said. "He dared them to try to catch him.
"Hey, when you're 21 and in shape you can do that crap. When you're 45 like we are now, no way."
Said Frey: "He definitely wasn't afraid to jump in and show you how to do things."
That resonated certainly with Specht, who knew as a teen he wanted to be a coach. He studied coaches and immediately gravitated toward Meyer and he shares in the same high-octane fashion with his teams.
"I'm an in-your-face type of coach myself, yes," he said. "It think it's important to give high fives when kids do things right and it's important to get on them when it's not right. Kids need love, they need tough love. They need all sorts of love and they'll always get it here."
The '85 Bombers got a lot of energy from many young coaches, said Sabatalo, who was 28 at the time.
Like Meyer, 1985 would be his last season at St. Xavier. He took over the head coaching job at Lakota West (West Chester, Ohio)
, where he was named the state's Division I Coach of the Year in 1989.
The following season Sabatalo left football to pursue a successful career in the transportation and delivery business. He is the president of Planes Companies and he applied all his football knowledge to the business world.
He and Meyer still stay in contact and the two along with Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell had dinner a few months ago.
"The thing about Urban is if he tells you that he'll do something for you, it's done," Sabatalo said. "He's very loyal."
Though Meyer hasn't kept one promise Sabatalo remembers him making in 1985. Not yet anyway.
"His big goal in life back then was to some day be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns," Sabatalo said. "He was dead serious. He was serious about everything that had to do with the game, about competing and winning. Whatever he did, it was filled with passion and energy. He was definitely going to climb the ladder of success." Big deal
But Meyer knew there was a pecking order. And, at least in 1985, he never crossed it, Specht said. Not that Meyer didn't want to.
"Urban definitely knew his stuff and (head coach) Rasso would spend a lot of time in the secondary," Specht said. "I could tell Urban would get a little frustrated at times because he wanted to do some things. When the head man doesn't want to do it, you just don't do it and Urban was respectful."
As were the Bombers, who went 6-4 that season and didn't make the playoffs. The team was prolific on offense, led by Frey, who earned a full ride to Ohio State and started there three years. The defense was marginal, Specht said.
Meyer began his collegiate coaching career the next season, joining Frey at Ohio State for two years as a graduate assistant under Earle Bruce.
Frey, now a salesman and distributor for AdvoCare and a color commentator for Fox Sports and SportsTime Ohio, said Bruce was the ultimate mentor for Meyer.
"I can count on one hand who have the intensity and focus and passion of Earle Bruce and Urban Meyer is one of them," Frey said. "Urban takes it to another level."
He took it all the way to the top with stops at Illinois State, Colorado State, Notre Dame, Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, where he won BCS national titles in 2006 and 2008.
His overall head coaching record is 104-23 (.819) and bowl-game mark is 7-1.
He's not a big fan of the press these days - that or he's tremendously busy - as attempts to reach him for this story through Ohio State's Sports Information Department were unsuccessful. Evidently, there's a long line of reporters waiting in line to speak to him on a plethora of topics.
"If you can get him on the phone, that's a big deal," Specht said.
And a bigger deal to meet him face-to-face.
"When Urban Meyer walks into a room, you know he's there," Specht said. "Not because he's so recognizable. You can just feel his presence. He's so confident in what he believes and who he is."
That was the case even before the national accolades, the Tim Tebow mentoring or BCS championships, Specht said. Even back when he was 21, ripping off his shirt, steaming up the secondary and running past high school kids.
"I'd think it's safe to say his first stop there at St. Xavier was his most important," Specht said. "Anywhere you start is most important. It's that way for all coaches. You just never forget it. And we'll never forget him."E-mail Mitch Stephens at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MitchMashMax.