Former Buckeye Antonio Pittman has a fiery passion for his post-playing career

Former Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman never lost to Michigan and here celebrates the Buckeyes' 2006 win over the Wolverines.
Lori Schmidt
The Columbus Dispatch

With 2,945 rushing yards from 2004-06, Antonio Pittman ranks 13th all-time at Ohio State.

"I look at myself as the most underrated Buckeye in Buckeye history," he says with the hint of a laugh. "And I'm cool with that. I'm cool with that because, all honesty, I never do anything for attention. I only do it if I love to do it. No one has ever forced me to do anything, and I've never been hungry to be noticed."

Proof of that might lie in the way Pittman and his girlfriend, Janei, a Columbus school teacher, run their charity, Navigating Alternative Success. It organizes tutoring sessions for students needing ACT prep, helps them with college admission letters, holds coat drives and more, but it lacks any sort of web presence.

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"We just never publicized it," Pittman said, explaining why he simply can't bring himself to be an aggressive fundraiser. "I never really liked taking stuff from people."

In fact, there's really only one achievement Pittman wants to crow about, a passion he preaches with the fervor of a pastor at a Sunday revival.

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"This is going into my sixth year being a full-time firefighter, and seven and a half years overall," he said. "The job itself is very rewarding. It takes a lot of patience. It showed me a lot about myself. It put life in a different perspective, for sure.

"I would say it's one of the best jobs in the world, but one of the worst advertised."

Former Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman has been a firefighter for almost eight years.

Pittman never considered it an option. When he was at Akron Buchtel High School, he was just trying to avoid the same troubles as some of his classmates. He said every member of the football team who played in the “I” formation alongside him have ended up serving at least some jail time.

"The reality of (a job in) public safety when you're growing up in the inner city is that it's kind of frowned upon," Pittman said.

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He still seemed an unlikely candidate for such a career when he entered the NFL draft in 2007. The Saints selected him in the fourth round. While New Orleans cut him before that season started, he was able to sign with the St. Louis Rams. He played there until 2009, when he had microfracture surgery on a knee.

Rehabbing the injury was taking so long, he understood on some level that he wasn't going to make it back into the league. Reluctant to give up playing, though, he kept hitting the gym hoping for another shot.

Antonio Pittman ranks No. 13 in Ohio State history with 2,945-career rushing yards.

And that's where he met Violet Township fire lieutenant Kevin McFarland.

McFarland nudged Pittman for about two years, telling him he'd be a great fit for the department. He brought Pittman to his station for pizza nights.

"He just wanted me to give me the experience of the firehouse culture," Pittman said.

It was a culture that Pittman fell in love with, but he was still unsure how would he fit into it.

Former Ohio State running back Antonio Pittman has started an internship for student-athletes who want to join the fire department.

"You never really seen too many Black firemen in your neighborhood, or in any neighborhood when (they) jump off those trucks," Pittman said.

Eventually, the same things that attracted him to football made him give this new career a try. The camaraderie and physicality appealed to him, so he used his NFL earnings to pay to attend the fire academy.

Now working in Columbus, he wants to make sure minority children see him when he jumps off the truck. He wants that to be noticed.

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So enthusiastic is he about recruiting the next generation of firefighters, he has joined with former Ohio State walk-on running back turned firefighter Jordan Leasure to create an internship that tries "to bridge the gap between student-athletes and the career of firefighting. ... Just trying to give them a better perspective, trying to introduce them to the great benefits, the lifestyle, the 100% tuition reimbursement, the pension and things of that nature; and trying to help them fall in love and develop that passion the same way that we have."

He's not done preaching.

"They can actually see that I am on my second career," he said, "and I'm enjoying it as much as I enjoyed playing football."

Antonio Pittman scored the game-winning touchdown against Michigan in Ohio State's road victory over the Wolverines in 2005.

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