Rob Oller | 99-year-old former Ohio State football player Cy Souders recounts playing under four different head coaches
As Ryan Day took over for Urban Meyer last January, much of the discussion about the Ohio State coaching change centered on how Day resembled a less tightly wound Meyer. Day was as competitive as Meyer, but the first-year coach brought a lighter touch to the program.
Cy Souders wasn’t among those fixated on the two coaches’ personality differences. For the 99-year-old former Ohio State player, contrasting Day to Meyer was nothing compared with his experiences playing for multiple coaches.
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Souders, whose given name is Cecil, began his Ohio State career in 1939 under Francis Schmidt, continued it under Paul Brown in 1942 and 1943 — Souders and Chuck Csuri are the only living members of the Buckeyes’ 1942 first national championship team — and then played under Carroll Widdoes in 1944. He finished up under Paul Bixler in 1946 after taking a year off to serve in the Navy during World War II.
Schmidt was an eccentric who enjoyed attracting attention. Souders, who moved back to Columbus in October after spending the past 32 years in central Florida, recalled Schmidt changing lanes and dodging street cars on Neil Avenue while driving his Cadillac to the Hotel Fort Hayes for lunch during a recruiting trip. Souders, a senior at Bucyrus High School at the time, thought it might be his last day on earth.
In another recruiting story, Schmidt once sent Ohio State assistant coach Ernie Godfrey to Bucyrus to warn Souders’ girlfriend, Jean Hoover — now the 97-year-old Jean Souders; the couple has been married for 80 years — not to allow her boyfriend to accept a scholarship offer from Louisiana State because “those southern belles will get after him, and he won’t come back.”
That was enough for Jean, who huffed, “Not my guy. He’s going to Ohio State.”
And he did. Souders played one season under Schmidt before leaving to take a job working for Jean’s father.
“As a freshman, I made about five or six tackles against the varsity, and Francis said, ‘Get that kid out of here. I never want to see him again,’” said Souders, who lives with his wife in Hilliard. “So I dropped out of school and got married.”
Brown replaced Schmidt in 1941 and, after his first season, wrote Souders a letter inviting him back to school.
Souders started as a 6-foot-1, 215-pound offensive and defensive end on the 1942 team that finished 9-1 and ranked No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll. The lone loss at Wisconsin remains a sore spot for Souders because of the way it went down — so to speak.
Ohio State players drank contaminated water on the train ride to Madison and spent much of the 17-7 loss running to the bathroom. (Note: Four years later, Souders experienced an even more painful memory in his senior season when Michigan trounced the Buckeyes 58-6, after which Souders drowned his sorrows back at the ATO fraternity by drinking more — ahem — “bad water.”)
Souders loved Brown, in part because the two shared a similar stoic persona.
“He was an unusual man,” Souders said of Brown, who brought to Ohio State inventive processes such as detailed playbooks and timed practices. Brown was against having married players on the team but made an exception for Souders, whose reputation for toughness was built during one-on-one tackling drills against future Hall of Famer Bill Willis.
“One tough player,” Souders said of Willis, rubbing his shoulder and wincing.
Souders spent part of the 1944 season playing for Widdoes at Ohio State and part for Brown on the Great Lakes Naval Training Station team outside Chicago, before joining the Navy and serving as a physical education instructor in Bainbridge, Maryland. Souders did not get shipped overseas because he and Jean had a young daughter, Sherry, who now lives with her husband, Marty Cohen, in Columbus.
Souders does not remember much about Widdoes or Bixler, besides neither being as organized as Brown. Widdoes, much more passive than Brown, resigned after two seasons, citing job pressure. Bixler exited after one season, also citing too much pressure.
Souders caught a team-high nine passes in 1946 and was voted team MVP. Dubbed “The Old Man” by teammates because he was a 26-year-old senior, Souders went on to play three seasons with the NFL’s Detroit Lions before “retiring” to start a job that paid more than the $10,000 he was making with the Lions.
Although he called playing for Brown “his favorite thing,” Souders’ favorite coach is his wife, who has accompanied him to all 50 states, much of Europe and six trips to the Caribbean as part of the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer.
“She has guided me all along,” he said, smiling.
After 99 years, the man has learned to speak wisdom.
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