Comeback story

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
Carlos Snow, who starred at Ohio State from 1988 to '91, battled alcohol and drug addiction after an early knee injury scuttled his NFL career, and he recently was living out of his car. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

They called him The Blizzard, back when Carlos Snow stormed through defenses as Ohio State’s starting tailback. Back before his life hit the skids. Before he began living out of his car.

“A Toyota Camry — scarlet, of course,” Snow said, smiling.

I asked the 51-year-old with the salt and pepper hair if he slept in the back seat.

“Or the front. With the seat reclined.”

It was a conversation I never thought I would have with a former Buckeye who ranks 11th in school history in career rushing yards (2,999) and led the team in rushing in 1988, ’89 and ’91 under coach John Cooper. Ohio State stars do not end up homeless. They land good jobs and buy nice homes.

Snow thought so, too — become a star for the Buckeyes and experience the good life afterward.

“You have a lot of friends, your entourage. A lot of people seem like they care about you; a lot of stuff you didn’t have to work hard for, but when the cheering and everything is gone, it can be a real lonely place,” he said.

Snow knows lonely. You could say he has majored in it, especially the past six months as he moved around from short stints living with his sister in Cincinnati, to homeless shelters to the scarlet Toyota.

I asked where he parked his four-wheel bedroom at night, but Snow changed the subject from where to why.

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“I was one of those guys who put all his eggs in that basket,” he said, meaning for him it was always the NFL or bust. And it busted. After leaving Ohio State without graduating and signing with the Denver Broncos as a free agent in 1992, Snow suffered a career-ending knee injury during training camp.

“My football career didn’t flourish, so here I am.”

Where is here? He has been staying the past month at the Worthington estate of Bernard Master, a retired doctor who offered his home as a way station until Snow can get back on his feet. The two met 30 years ago, when Master hired Snow to do odd jobs around the house.

“We have a multi-step plan to get Carlos back to humanity,” Master said.

Before Snow’s story moves forward, however, he insisted on going backward, sharing his decades-long struggles for the first time, partially because until recently he was unable to recount the details. Issues with alcohol — he attends Alcoholics Anonymous and has not had a drink since Feb. 24, 2017 — and pain pills put him in a mental haze regarding his history.

He insisted he is finished medicating away the pain associated with multiple surgeries that resulted from football injuries. Both knees were replaced in the past year and his right leg still is held together by a metal rod inserted when he had a benign tumor removed from his thigh, which cost him the 1990 season. He also has hip and back issues.

“This is the first time I can tell you what I actually did,” he said. “The rest of the time, someone else had to tell me.”

The alcohol addiction goes way back. After winning the 100-meter dash at the state track and field championships as a junior at the now-defunct Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education, Snow qualified for the event his senior season by running 10.5 seconds in his regional meet. One week later, he arrived in Columbus for the state meet, went out drinking the night before the final and showed up for his race hungover.

“I finished dead last. It was embarrassing,” he said.

As an Ohio State freshman, he said he blacked out while driving on Indianola Avenue near campus, crashed his car into a telephone pole and took out a gas pump before “a yellow house stopped me.”

“To tell you the truth, I wish something would have happened to me,” he said.

Instead, he never lost his license or even went to court.

“Especially when you’re the star, it was the kind of thing that gets swept up under the rug,” Snow said. “But maybe it could have prevented me from what I’m going through now.”

When the NFL did not work out, Snow bounced around jobs, teaching health at a prep school in Cincinnati and working with at-risk youth in Columbus.

“I always knew I wanted to help young men, whether they were in gangs or had a poor upbringing,” he said. “I still have that passion and drive. It’s why I love coaching.”

For now, however, Snow is being coached. Master stepped in when Snow confided in him after the Michigan game in November that he was homeless. Only the Toyota kept him from sleeping on benches or under highway overpasses in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. He visited homeless shelters but found them less appealing than his car.

“When we see people sleeping on a bench, well, sometimes it’s better than getting into a shelter,” he said, explaining how theft and drug addicts “coming down off their high” can make temporary public housing tough to tolerate. “I would rather be back in the justice center, in jail.”

An OVI conviction in 2017 meant Snow spent more than a week in Hamilton County jail. It was then he decided “no more,” but pride kept him from seeking help. Instead, he suffered in silence, even when losing his job for a printing company last winter because he no longer was physically able to do the work.

He also lost his living quarters when child support (he was divorced in 2006), medical and college bills — he said he owes nearly $7,000 to the University of Cincinnati, where he attempted to finish his degree before money ran out — wiped out his bank account and sent him to the streets.

Along the way, Snow said he twice attempted to end his life. The thought of leaving his three sons fatherless kept him from self-destructing.

“I don’t like to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t want to ever go that way again.”

Resentment is a bitter root, and Snow fights against having ill feelings toward some family members and former Ohio State teammates who in his view have been less than charitable in lending a hand.

“I’ve had teammates and guys who played at Ohio State before me say that I disappointed and embarrassed them,” he said, shaking his head.

At the same time, Snow knows that seeds of judgment used to sprout in him, too. But like a modern-day “My Man Godfrey,” he has changed his opinion about the homeless.

“I want to do more research on homelessness, because until I was there I didn’t know some of the stuff these people go through,” he said. “I was probably one of the ones who used to talk bad about them or judge. Now I know, you just run out of options.”

Austin Hill, Columbus director for The Refuge, a free residential recovery program located on the West Side, explained that it is not just one thing that leads to homelessness.

“But the biggest breakdown is a lack of healthy relationships,” he said. “A lot of these situations could be avoided if people understood how to build and maintain healthy relationships.”

Enter Master, whose relationship with Snow is one of the few healthy ones he has. The doctor is helping Snow on multiple fronts, including a GoFundMe campaign that has collected nearly half of its $8,000 goal. Among the objectives is to help Snow return to school and earn a degree, whether at Ohio State or Cincinnati.

“I was a battalion surgeon with the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division in Vietnam,” Master said. “We never lost a battle, and we’re not going to lose one now.”

But he needs Snow’s help, even though the former player insists he is not looking for a handout.

“Don't give me anything. Let me work for it,” Snow said. “But don't leave me high and dry.”

Master said Snow must stick to the restoration plan, which includes counseling, making new friends who are not negative influences, and seeking spiritual guidance.

“My first 50 years I messed around and did things my way,” Snow said. “This next 50 I want to keep my eye on the prize and make my resume for the Most High.”

The Blizzard sounds like he is ready to push ahead. One step in the right direction: He is taking responsibility for poor choices.

“When I look in the mirror I have to say, ‘It’s me. I did this.’ I’ve been at rock bottom, but this might be the top of something good,” he said. “A new Carlos. A new life. A new beginning.”


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