Gameday+ | State spotlight: How a former Ohio State player has built a Division II power at Notre Dame College

Brian Hofmann
Mike Jacobs, a former Ohio State player, has built up the program at Notre Dame College by recruiting plenty of central Ohio players. [Lianna Holub]

Notre Dame College at West Virginia State


Records: 9-1, 8-1 Mountain East Conference; West Virginia State 7-3, 7-2

Series: Notre Dame College leads 5-1.

Last meeting: Notre Dame College won 33-31 in South Euclid in 2018.

Much like Ohio State in Division I and Mount Union in Division III have done, a college football program from Ohio is climbing the ranks to the top of Division II, and it hopes to make it a long stay.

Notre Dame College is 9-1 this season and seeking a second straight appearance in the Division II playoffs after the regular season ends this week. It’s been quite a rise for a school that was for women only until 2001 and launched its football program in 2009.

“I really thought this place had an opportunity to be special,” said fourth-year coach Mike Jacobs, a former Ohio State offensive lineman. “It’s unique from a lot of other D2 programs. Location is everything. We're 7½ miles from Downtown Cleveland, a major metro area. A lot of D2 programs aren't.”

The Falcons, based in South Euclid, have rolled through the Mountain East Conference, a collection of programs from Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. They have outscored opponents by an average score of 42.2-23.0, the only blemish coming last week in a 23-20 overtime time to Glenville State.

And they’ve done it in part by collecting some of the best high school talent out of central Ohio, with 14 players Franklin or Fairfield counties.

“Any time you get the opportunity to play close to home at a high level, you take that opportunity,” running back Vasean Davis of Gahanna said.

The Falcons had won 16 straight conference games before last week, and the loss knocked them from the top 10 of the Division II poll for the first time in a year, down to 15th. But a single loss is not bound to get them down, junior cornerback Davionn Johnson of St. Charles said.

“No, no, no,” Johnson said. “(In the locker room) I said that's the type of moments that can create champions. We hit the reset button. It's time to bounce back.”

Johnson is fourth on the team with 46 tackles. Davis has two touchdowns among his 23 carries. Other local contributors include senior offensive lineman Michael Kyle of Northland and junior kicker Tanner Harding of Gahanna.

Guiding it has been Jacobs, a Mentor native and himself the son of a coach. Mike T. Jacobs, who died in 2010, had stops at several schools large and small, including Mesa Community College in Arizona and as an assistant under John Cooper at Ohio State from 1995 to ’99.

The two Jacobs partly overlapped at Ohio State. Even as a player at Ohio State from 1997 to 2001 under Cooper and Jim Tressel, the younger Jacobs was thinking of becoming a coach one day.

“Being the son of a coach and the grandson of a high school coach, I knew early on it’s what I wanted to do,” he said. “I’m one of those guys who has always taken notes on what I liked and what I didn’t like.”

Jacobs said what he learned from Cooper was similar to what he later learned as an assistant at Purdue under Joe Tiller: how to recruit and evaluate potential talent.

“We weren't getting blue-bloods (at Purdue) that Ohio State or Michigan were getting, so you really had to project guys,” Jacobs said.

As for Tressel, it was his ability to personally relate with everyone he worked with, not just players but staff members and facility employees.

“The complete emphasis he put on the person and not just the player … how he interacted with everyone in that building was a little bit different than Coop.”

Now it’s Jacobs turn to see how close he can get to a national championship. A win over West Virginia State would clinch the conference title for Notre Dame College, but it’s not a guarantee of a playoff spot. In Division II, those are awarded to the top seven ranked teams in each of four regions. It takes four wins to reach the national championship game.

“Our expectation, we want to win it all,” Johnson said. “Everything else, we have fallen short.”

Ohio Dominican at Hillsdale


Elsewhere in the Division II playoff race, the Panthers (6-2, 5-1 Great Midwest Athletic Conference) are holding on to slim hopes. They are ranked 10th in their region, but a win over Hillsdale (6-4, 4-2) would give them a chance to move up and to potentially grab a share of their conference title.

Cincinnati at South Florida


The Bearcats (8-1, 5-0 American Athletic Conference East), 17th in the College Football Playoff rankings, have reeled off seven straight wins but two weeks ago almost hit a bump, beating East Carolina 46-43. Those are the same Pirates that the Bulls (4-5, 2-3) rolled over 45-20 the week before.