Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Jeff Uhlenhake believes his job working with student-athletes helps to keep him young. As a strength coordinator for the Buckeye football team, he appreciates the carefree attitude most players have about the future and finds their optimism to be contagious. In return, Jeff is pleased to talk with them about his experiences on and off the football field, as a former player and current coach.
Among the insights he is quick to share with players is the concept of taking the term student-athlete literally. “You are a student first, athlete second,” Jeff said. “I tell them to develop educational abilities in school and to have a balanced life. Playing sports by itself isn’t everything and they must do their best with the educational process.”
Inducted as a member of the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008, Jeff knows what he’s talking about. After playing football in high school, he was a red-shirt Buckeye for a year and a four-year starter. In 1990, he earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from the College of Education and Human Ecology—and admits it took a small village to get him there.
“When you give financial support to any athletics team, that’s one of the things behind the scenes that you don’t think about. Those tutors aren’t free and I’m grateful I had the opportunity for the help needed,” Jeff said.
In 1989, he joined the Miami Dolphins for five years and played alongside Dan Marino. He then joined the New Orleans Saints for two years, and concluded his National Football League career with the Washington Redskins.
Jeff’s financial success at that time inspired him to make a major gift to help Ohio State student-athletes excel. With assistance from the university’s Office of Planned Giving, he established a trust that will provide scholarship opportunities in the future.
Jeff had previously created an endowed scholarship, an experience that he has found rewarding. “I received a thank you letter from a student over two years before he realized he was actually writing to me,” Jeff said. “It was great to see his surprise when he recognized the connection.”
With his professional playing experience, Jeff made a transition to a career in coaching—first at the high school level, then for the NFL and the Cleveland Browns, and eventually to Ohio State and Central Ohio. It was a return to where his heart is. “you work with some of the best players in the nation, yet you know there’s a real purpose behind the program. Jim Tressel has a true mission for making an impact on these young lives,” Jeff said. “That’s a great highlight of the situation here at the university.”
Jeff clearly recalls the day in 1976 when, as a third-grader, he watched the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes 22-0. The memory of that day more than 30 years ago fueled his passion for the rivalry—and he knew he would be a Buckeye for life.
Both his brother and sister are alumni and their parents are avid Buckeye fans, still attending many games a season. “There is a total commitment there by my family,” he said.
A resident of Columbus, Jeff is married to Angie, a high school biology teacher now taking some time to care for their two young sons, Jake and Ben. The proud dad is thrilled the boys are showing some athletic skills. “Even so, I just want them to be good kids and to always represent themselves well,” he added.