Friday, October 28, 2011
By Cam Inman
October 27, 2011
Ted Ginn Sr. would rent a van every June and load up the precious cargo: young, promising but overlooked high school athletes.
They would depart from the Cleveland area and travel to colleges all across the country, determined to make an impression on others -- not to mention themselves.
Two of those players now start for the 49ers: wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. and strong safety Donte Whitner.
"I felt everybody wanted to go to Texas and Florida to get athletes, and I wanted to change that," Ginn Sr. said by phone Thursday. "I had to turn the heads of the universities to make people see that there is greatness in Cleveland, there is greatness in Ohio, there is greatness at Glenville High School.
"Those guys were the pioneers."
Since those trailblazing days, Ginn, the head coach at Glenville, has helped more than 100 players earn college scholarships and launched a school for at-risk boys. He and his wife will make the trip west to watch the 49ers face the hometown Browns on Sunday -- only this time by airplane rather than rental van.
"It was all his vision. I know for a fact me and Teddy are in the National Football League because of him," Whitner said. " ... We didn't really believe that we could make it to this level."
The younger Ginn and Whitner were teammates at Glenville and Ohio State before starting their NFL careers with lowly franchises in Miami and Buffalo, respectively. Now 26, both are flourishing in their first year together in San Francisco.
Their path was laid by the elder Ginn, whose had an immeasurable impact in the Cleveland community. Among the slew of athletes he has helped earn scholarships is Troy Smith, who won the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State in 2006 and played quarterback for the 49ers last season.
"He means a lot to the community, to the people, to the kids," Ted Jr. said of his dad, noting the good examples he has to show others. "It makes his job a little easier. He can say, 'Hey look, it can happen for you if you do this, do that.' "
Five years ago, the all-male Ginn Academy opened, and enrollment has risen steadily to 300 students. Ted Jr. paid a visit during the 49ers' five-day layover in Ohio last month. In showing them that he's just a regular guy, the 49ers' speedy return man may have very well saved a few lives, his father reasons.
"We came from an environment that didn't have expectations," Ted Sr. said. "I started teaching expectations, then it takes kids like them to achieve it to give the next group hope."
That message echoed throughout a rental van nearly a decade ago. The Ginns and other prospects were a traveling showcase, rolling from state to state. They would bunk at hotels and sometimes get caught with too many people in a room. Those seven to 10 passengers learned they were just as talented as the Florida and Texas players labeled No. 1 by the recruiting magazines.
"We'd go around to schools -- from Purdue to North Carolina State to Florida to Miami -- and we were competing against all these kids," Whitner said. "We would start to gain more and more confidence."
Glenville became a talent pipeline to Ohio State, starting in 2002 with Smith, who referred to Ted Sr. as "my dad" in his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech.
Whitner traced his work ethic to his high school days with the elder Ginn. At the time, Whitner's father, Lindsey Robinson, was in jail on robbery and drug charges. Whitner lived with his mom but would get daily rides from Ginn, who also would take the boys to a personal trainer after practice and then back to the Ginn house for protein shakes.
"He was really tough on us," Whitner said. "I was almost his son in high school. I am his son."
Whitner signed a three-year, $11.75 million contract with the 49ers this summer and reunited with Ginn, who was traded from Miami to San Francisco in April 2010.
Together they've contributed to the 49ers' hot start. While Whitner has solidified the secondary, Ginn's return skills are among the league's best; Ginn scored touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns to clinch the season-opening win over Seattle.
On Sunday at Candlestick Park, Ted Sr. will get to watch both of his sons in action, a culmination of the dream hatched on cross-country van trips many years ago.
"I gave them a game plan and a blueprint on how they need to go through life, to achieve things they're able to achieve," Ted Sr. said. "Then I gave them a work ethic that they didn't like. Now they understand why that work ethic they had in high school has paid off -- to get paid for something they love."