Monday, June 20, 2022

Forgotten Buckeyes: Jeff Uhlenhake


Uhlenhake’s teams were inconsistent throughout his OSU career, but he was always solid as a rock.

By Josh Dooley@jdooleybuckeye  Jun 17, 2022, 6:31pm EDT

Shortly after I began contributing to Land Grant Holy Land, I realized that I was already struggling to come up with good content for the offseason/summer months. Hell of a start, right? But unfortunately, once the NFL Draft takes place, the content well tends to dry up unless you’ve already dialed in on one of the spring sports or the NBA Draft (but as Buckeye hoops fans... you get it). Ohio State football and basketball – our most popular topics – are still part of the news cycle, but they have taken a back seat. And recruiting... well, there are people at LGHL who do a hell of a job covering it, so I wasn’t about to swim with those sharks.

I needed to think outside the box. I thought: Football is months away, basketball is months away, recruiting is speculative and subject to change... many of the topics being covered now revolve around future events or predictions. But what about former players? And I’m not talking recent or soon-to-be draftees, because those athletes are still being talked or written about.

I am referring to unheralded and underappreciated Buckeyes from decades ago, that have been forgotten by some (or most) since they last donned the scarlet and gray. And there it was: Forgotten Buckeyes. Other OSU fans and media types have taken a similar approach to recognition, but this is my personal way of appreciating those who left an indelible mark at Ohio State.

Welcome to Volume II.

Outside of the football elite, most offensive linemen do not receive a ton of notoriety. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the position they play. Some choose the line, while others are forced into it solely because they are bigger and stronger than most. Regardless, Joe Schmo the common fan tends to overlook the hog mollies (term of endearment) up front because they don’t score touchdowns, sack the quarterback, or pick off passes.

But I could argue that centers, guards, and tackles up front are some of the most important players on the field. If quarterbacks in the NFL are being paid upwards of $50 million per season, what does that say about the importance of those paid to protect the star signal callers? And if a defensive tackle is commonly referred to as the most dominant force in the league (or CFB, speaking hypothetically), doesn’t it make sense to invest in the player(s) standing in his way?

Centers and guards in particular tend to get the shortest end of the stick, but not if I have anything to say about it. This week’s Forgotten Buckeye was a force on the interior, gave many years to the football program, and even dabbled in the movies as a master thespian.

Born in Indianapolis (IN), Jeff Uhlenhake eventually moved to Newark (OH) – 40 minutes east of the capital city – and attended Newark Catholic High School, a school with a football team that was quite successful during the 1980’s (five state titles). He was a part of Newark’s 1982 title team, before earning all-state accolades as an offensive tackle the following year. Uhlenhake then chose to remain close to home, and committed to Ohio State as part of Earle Bruce’s 1984 recruiting class.

Uhlenhake took a redshirt in his first year with the program, as he watched the Buckeyes go 9-3. In 1985, he was inserted into the lineup as a starter at left guard and acquitted himself quite well. The team finished with a 9-3 record for a sixth (!) consecutive season, and although they did not have a 1,000-yard rusher, four backs combined for nearly 2,000 yards on the ground. Uhlenhake also helped protect quarterback Jim Karsatos on his way to 2,300 yards passing and 19 touchdowns, the latter of which was a school record at the time.

OSU’s offense was just as proficient in 1986, but the Buckeyes stumbled out of the blocks to begin their season. They scored just 17 total points against No. 5 Alabama and No. 17 Washington, en route to back-to-back losses. However, with Uhlenhake now a proven commodity up front, and stars such as Cris Carter and Chris Spielman on either side of the ball, Ohio State was able to turn their season around. Over their next 11 games, the offense averaged 30 PPG and the defense surrendered more than 17 points just twice (while pitching two shutouts). The Buckeyes lost to TTUN, but ended on a high note by defeating Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl. Unfortunately, that would end up being Uhlenhake’s last appearance in a bowl game.

Ohio State lost three straight one-score games near the end of the 1987 season, resulting in a 6-4-1 record and Bruce’s eventual firing. Uhlenhake had moved to center for his fourth year with the Buckeyes, and again played well, but the offense was otherwise subpar. Tom Tupa took over as the starting QB, and although he had shown some promise as a backup, he went on to become a successful punter in the NFL — just saying. Backfield duties were split up between four different backs – even though Vince Workman was coming off of a 1,000-yard season – and as a result, no back exceeded 470 yards on the ground. The pass catchers were no more successful, and things only got worse in 1988.

John Cooper was brought in as Bruce’s replacement, and OSU struggled mightily. The Buckeyes finished the ’88 season with a 4-6-1 record; their worst since 1966. Despite the poor team record, Uhlenhake did have his best year as an individual contributor. He was named an All-American by The Sporting News, and his peers voted him as the team’s MVP. Furthermore, he had proven to NFL talent evaluators that he could anchor an offensive line for years to come.

Uhlenhake was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the 1989 NFL Draft, and went on to play nine seasons in the league. He remained at center for the duration of his career, starting 112 of 119 games played. Miami made it as far as an AFC Championship Game with Uhlenhake in the lineup, but most of his teams ended up around .500.

However, it was during his time with the Dolphins that this former Buckeye got to experience something arguably better than playing in a Super BowlUhlenhake had a cameo in 1994’s Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, alongside Jim Carrey and many of his teammates. His bathroom scene was Oscar-worthy. Uhlenhake retired after the 1998 season, and found his way back to Ohio — and eventually Ohio State.

After a brief period as a high school football coach and athletic director, Uhlenhake joined the OSU staff as a graduate assistant under Jim Tressel. He later followed Mark Dantonio to Cincinnati, before moving up to the NFL ranks. He spent two years as the assistant offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns, but was then offered what seems like a dream gig with his alma mater. Uhlenhake became an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Ohio State in 2007, and held the position until he retired in 2019.

Uhlenhake was a heck of a football player, an underrated comedic actor, and may not be “forgotten” in the truest sense due to his All-American status, long NFL career, and time spent on the OSU staff. But in case you forgot about (or are unfamiliar with) this Buckeye who dedicated nearly 20 years of his life to the football program, hopefully this brought additional light to just how successful and interesting his career was.

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