For the Katzenmoyers, times spent hunting and fishing may be gone forever — replaced by difficult times for a star athlete and his family
BY TOM MELODY
Beacon Journal outdoor editor
COLUMBUS: Just a short while ago, life was so simple, so believable and indeed bearable for Warren Katzenmoyer and his gifted only son, Andy, the Big Kat.
They’d hunt for everything except deer and migratory waterfowl and they’d fish for whatever was biting. Guy stuff, wonderful stuff, but memories now, just memories, put away so new ones may be created. Maybe there’ll be time later on for the two of them to hunt and fish again. Maybe not.
“I don’t know where all of this is going,” Warren Katzenmoyer said the other day during an interview in his office at the Division of Wildlife headquarters.
He is 55 and has been with the state for 28 years, rising from a wildlife management assistant in the District Three office in Coventry to director of business operations statewide for the division.
His son is 20, a linebacker of considerable renown for Ohio State University, a starter since he was 17 years old and the winner of the Butkus Award for defensive excellence last autumn as a sophomore. It doesn’t get much better than that — or, as a matter of fact, much more difficult.
Consider, for example, when Sports Illustrated decided to feature him in this fall’s college football issue. Photographers took 800 pictures, according to his father.
Think about it. “Turn your head to the right.” Click.“Turn your head to the left.” Click. Multiply that by 400 and you have a day in the life of the Big Kat.
Consider what Andy endured as a freshman pushing his way into the starting lineup on a team dominated by upperclassmen — and him wearing two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s No. 45 at that. Although Ohio State does not retire numbers, 45 had not been issued since Griffin’s senior season of 1975.
“It was a very, very difficult time for Andy,” the elder Katzenmoyer said. “Some of the players just wouldn’t accept him and, after the Wisconsin game (the fifth game of the season in his freshman year of 1996), he considered giving up football and instead concentrating on baseball.”
Yes, Andy Katzenmoyer might have traded one sport for another, but his dream would have remained on a singular course. “Ever since he was 10,” Katzenmoyer said, “he has wanted to be a professional athlete and all he has done was directed toward that goal.”
For a spell, Katzenmoyer thought his son would become a professional baseball player, but Andy decided after his sophomore year at Westerville High in suburban Columbus to concentrate wholly on football.
“That was a sad day in our house,” Katzenmoyer said, not because football had been chosen, but because baseball had been abandoned. That, after all, had been their game together, with Dad coaching and Andy pitching, catching, playing first base and the outfield.
Katzenmoyer paused for a moment, waited for the memories to settle, and then went on: “When Andy was 10, I was taking him to pitch an important game and there was a report on the radio about Dwight Gooden’s problems with drugs,” Katzenmoyer said.
Then, out of the blue, Andy said, “I can understand that. It’s the pressure.” Katzenmoyer talked some more about the days in the kid leagues. “We’d watch games on TV and he’d question every move. He wanted to know why this or that was done . . . nevermind that he was only 9 or 10 years old That’s when I began to understand that he might someday be exceptional, as far as athletics were concerned.”
Even then, he understood the games, if not the games people later would play with his mind and at considerable expense to the family.
When, for example, Andy had to endure summer school in order to maintain his eligibility, the story was at the top of the news for days.
“Until then,” Katzenmoyer said, “we felt Andy was just some sort of local phenomenon. We couldn’t believe how much attention that story received across the nation.”
Earlier, there was the matter of Andy wearing, supposedly demanding, Griffin’s number.
“That is an oft-told lie,” Katzenmoyer said. “Andy did not demand the number, and it was promised him by (head coach) John Cooper and Archie himself, because they knew it had been his high school number and they knew he favored it.”
OK, so maybe they conceded because he was such a marvelous prospect, one still considering offers from Nebraska, Penn State and Boston College at the time.
At any rate, he has worn the number with distinction. There can be no argument about that.
Consider, too, that Andy was not yet born when Griffin was excelling as a Buckeye running back. Moreover, like so many other excellent athletes, he was not much of a fan.
“I’d take him to an Ohio State game now and then,” Katzenmoyer said, “but he’d always be ready to go home after, say, the third quarter. He was a participant, not a fan. That’s just the way he was, and is.”
His son’s goal of goals is to “play the perfect game. Someday, he wants to look at the films and say that, in his judgment, he has played the perfect game.”
Things good and bad have grown since that numbers game, especially the pressure, always the pressure.
“I’m very proud of Andy,” Katzenmoyer said, “but my heart goes out to him because he has no privacy.”
He must pass in review, rather than walk, across campus. He is asked to sign autographs in the classroom.
It is a bit much for “a shy, private person such as Andy,” his father said.
Believe it or not, the family nearly fell prey to the stir created by Andy and the fanatical disciples of football at Ohio State.
Hey, why not? This was quite a ride for a fellow in his 50s whose football-playing days at Iowa State (offensive and defensive end) were terminated by injury after his freshman year. The team captain was a defensive back named John Cooper — yes, that John Cooper. The two didn’t get to know each other until some years later.
Interviews, TV shots, a house beginning to look like a souvenir shop at Ohio Stadium.
“The house has been sanitized — and I now treasure my anonymity once more,” Katzenmoyer said. “You will not see a single thing about Ohio State in our home, except in Andy’s bedroom, where he has all the things he has won since he was 9 or 10. We want this to be Andy’s refuge. We want him to know that we are here for him and, when he comes home (from his Columbus apartment), Ohio State is behind him.”
So it must be, he indicated, saying Andy chose Ohio State because it was close to home, close to family (he has two older sisters).
The future? As the elder Katzenmoyer said, there’s no telling what’s out there, good or bad.
Perhaps Andy will opt to leave school after this season and thereby fulfill his long-standing dream in the National Football League. That is a business decision, plain and simple.
“In December, he’ll see the lists of where players are likely to be drafted by the pros and he’ll take it from there,” Katzenmoyer said. “If he is not likely to go in the first 10 draft picks, maybe it would be to his financial advantage to play another year of college ball.”
Having said that, he emphasized that, “It’s his money and his life. Our part in this is to be here for him when he needs us.” If at a discreet distance.
The elder Katzenmoyer, for instance, does not go to practice and after the games, home and away, he and his wife, Dianne, linger outside the dressing quarters only until they are sure Andy has not been injured.
As with the family home, there are no indications in Katzenmoyer’s Division of Wildlife office that he is the father of one of college football’s best-known players.
No scarlet, no gray. No footballs and baubles. “I want the focus here to be on business, not on Andy,” Katzenmoyer said.
After a while, after the photographer had gone on his way and just he and a journalist remained in his office, Katzenmoyer opened a cabinet drawer and produced a computer mouse pad.
There was Andy ready to pounce on the opposition, a study in concentration and love of sport. It was the sort of thing a father might touch from time to time and feel the warmth of his son.
Tom Melody is Beacon Journal outdoor editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3813.