Oct. 15, 2005
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Somewhere along the way Anthony Schlegel forgot what he was looking for. He did not mean to. It was just one of those things that happened after he crossed the threshold that led from high school to college. Like most young adults, Schlegel had goals and dreams. However, his well-meaning intentions to go out into the world and teach goodness were interrupted, but not because he no longer cared. With the eerie simplicity of forgetting about what once mattered to him the most, Schlegel decided to re-align his priorities thanks to a former Buckeye and he is all the better for it.
Growing up in Highland Park, Texas, Schlegel followed the path of most teens in the Lone Star State by making football and wrestling his daily routine. In a day when teens and 20-somethings are labeled the “entitlement generation,” Schlegel proved he had something to offer to his community, other than all-district honors on the gridiron and high school wrestling heavyweight championships. The future Buckeye linebacker decided to teach Sunday School at his church and envisioned mentoring others about faith and spirituality when he headed to college.
Immersed in a new environment after enrolling at the United States Air Force Academy and surrounded by a barrage of new experiences and expectations, Schlegel put his commitment to a force much bigger than football on the bottom half of his priority list. It was not until he heard the inspirational words of former Buckeye Chris Spielman three years ago that Schlegel realized he was due for a much-needed change that included a renewed relationship with God. “I just kind of got away from everything,” Schlegel said. “It was really easy losing that (faith) because of all the influences that were around and I just wanted to take some time out for myself. It really was Chris Spielman who got me back on track. He was commentating the San Francisco Bowl game we (Air Force) were playing in against Virginia Tech. He talked about his wife Stefanie; everything they went through and how he gave it all to God. I was just like, `Man, I’ve been missing the boat here; something is missing here.’ That’s what I wanted to do when I came out of high school, but yet I don’t think I was really living that. It really took some reflection. I came to Ohio State and saw guys like Craig Krenzel and Ben Hartsock going to Bible study and it kind of rekindled my faith and it has been growing ever since.”
Schlegel’s wife, Stephanie, a high school teacher at Hilliard Davidson, saw the change in her husband after they moved to Columbus following his transfer from the Academy. When they first settled in the capital city they pondered how they could contribute to their new community. The couple, who have been dating since their freshman year in high school and were married on Valentine’s Day of 2004, became members of Linworth Baptist Church in Worthington, Ohio, and offered their services to the church’s youth groups.
“When we moved to Columbus, we thought, `what can we do?”’ Stephanie Schlegel said. “It’s such an honor to be able to work with children and we feel it is important to work with young people and give back. Anthony always calls us `Team Schlegel’ and both of us consider ourselves big kids, so with our work, we help each other grow and become better people.”
Anthony and Stephanie usually work with the teens and parents at Linworth during the offseason. Breaking into small groups of five or six, each assembly reads passages from the Bible. The Schlegel’s act as facilitators, encouraging open discussion and for Anthony, it is a flashback to his own youth, when he initially found the Word of the Gospel exhilarating. Working with teens and young adults, Schlegel knows they are old enough to decide if they want to learn the scriptures and their desire to become a part of a bigger cause allows him to accomplish a dream that manifested itself when he was just a teen.
“It is fun because these kids really want to learn,” Schlegel said. “It isn’t like I’m just teaching; I’m getting something back too. It is great because, as a younger person, I know what they’re going through in high school, the temptations and the things they’re being exposed to. I always try to help them by giving examples about me being on the football field or what I have seen in college, if they are going to college. I can help them with that and Stephanie does too, so it is a good mix. I also get insight from the parents. So it’s always about growing.”
Schlegel’s biggest mission is to tell his story. Having witnessed the metamorphosis of the 6-foot-1-inch, 251-pounder’s life, Stephanie knows her husband has learned from his mistakes, proving it is possible to be a tough guy or a “manly man” and still be a Christian.
Schlegel routinely thinks about the road he has traveled, pit-stopping at Ohio State. From enrolling at the Academy to transferring and sitting out a year in order to fulfill NCAA transfer guidelines, Schlegel believes it was a part of a blueprint only God could create, despite some unsure moments about the immediate future. Through it all, the team humanitarian gives a remarkable amount of his time all year long, speaking at churches throughout Ohio and high school Fellowship of Christian Athletes club meetings.
“Anytime I can go and talk about my relationship with God, people usually will listen because I am an Ohio State Buckeye,” Schlegel said. “I think it is my obligation to do that. It is just one of those things being an Ohio State football player allows me to do. I don’t think a lot of people know that about me just because everybody focuses on the other things. But I’m not the only one. I have spoken to youth groups with Craig Krenzel, Ben Hartsock, Nate Salley, Donte Whitner, Dustin Fox and Simon Fraser. It is just a bunch of guys on our team going out and doing positive things.”
Stan Jefferson, now in his second year as associate director of football operations and coordinator of the football Buckeyes’ community activities, frequently sees Schlegel giving his time to others and never hesitating to uplift and bring happiness to the lives of those already impacted by reality’s tough lessons.
“Anthony has been involved in it all,” Jefferson said. “You cannot ask too much of him about paying it forward. He has a tremendous commitment to the community. He does an outstanding job in everything he does. He’s a tremendous guy.”
Working with Jefferson, Schlegel, along with other members of the team have been a part of community programs, ranging from Athletes in Action to tutoring efforts in Columbus Public Schools. Additionally, Schlegel uses his knack of bringing laughs and smiles to a crowd to patients at the Columbus Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University Medical Center.
Naturally, Schlegel is front and center when Jefferson asks any of the guys to make visits, and needless to say, it is an enjoyment for the man who does not mind being known more for his charity work and efforts to walk in faith, rather than his hard hits on opposing quarterbacks.
Schlegel, along with OSU teammates, Bobby Carpenter, A.J. Hawk, Nick Mangold and Fraser, a former Buckeye, continued to demonstrate his obligation to help others when he helped coordinate a dodge ball tournament with Stephanie and the Hilliard Davidson freshman class that would raise $3,000 for the Miracle for Madison and Friends fund. The money collected helped The Ohio State Medical Center continue its research of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), an illness that affects 8-year-old Madison Rose Reed of Dublin, Ohio. Reed is one of 25,000 people in the United States afflicted with the illness that destroys nerve cells controlling voluntary movement.
“I have never known Anthony to turn someone down,” Stephanie said. “If he is your friend, he will help you and he is your friend for life. He just always is constantly giving of himself.”
Even when Schlegel was tested with another challenge after suffering a knee injury last year, he put his role as a team player first and pushed through the difficulty. Once again he attributed it all to the power of God.
“It’s tough because God made me a competitor,” Schlegel said. “My biggest thing was when I got hurt. I thought, `if this is career-ending, where am I going to go from here?’ I just gave everything to God, and my wife and I would pray He would give me the strength to keep practicing hard, stay healthy and have a good knee surgery. That’s what it is all about.”
“He does a lot of things for the team,” Whitner, who plays strong safety at Ohio State, said. “He sacrifices his body for the team. Last year, he had a knee injury and he could have easily sat out and said `I have a chance of going to the NFL, I’m just going to sit out.’ No, he didn’t do that. He put a knee brace on. At times he couldn’t even run on the leg because it was hurting so badly. He went out there and practiced every play like the rest of us did. He went out there in the games and performed up to his capabilities with the knee injury, so he is a giver of himself. That’s a true team player.”
So much is the Word of God in Schlegel’s heart, he always takes a moment following a contest to give thanks for the chance to play the game he loves and to be granted the opportunity to play again. Sure, he certainly soaks up the opportunity to showcase his talents because it is something he loves doing, but he describes playing as his chance to perform for others up to the level only God can allow. For Schlegel, his talents on the football field are a gift from above and his way of showing his appreciation is to play as hard as he can. Thus, his passion for the sport is undeniably strong.
Make no mistake, after fantastic wins or tough loses, Schlegel always will be a student of the game, but it does not identify him. He is more of a student of his belief, a belief that has carried him far through a cycle of ups and downs.
“After the Texas game, we just prayed,” Schlegel said. “We always pray at the end of games with the other team, or whoever wants to be there. We just give glory for what we were able to do and that nobody was hurt. A lot of people do not have the opportunity to do what we do in front of the whole country and that is something special.”
“My faith has made me evaluate myself. I can’t go out and preach one thing and do another. It makes me aware of how I present my first impression to people. I don’t want to talk to somebody and next thing I know, they see me out somewhere going crazy. Not to say there is something wrong with going out, but I carry myself differently and take that as my role.”
With a steadfast resolve, Schlegel remembers what is and shall remain at the top of his priority list – expressing his faith. Doing so is as natural as breathing in an environment where the OSU staff and team promote not a particular religion or belief, but simply a mantra of being a decent human being and being proud of the good one can do.
“Coach (Jim) Tressel just wants us to be classy people because there is life after football,” Schlegel said. “No matter what someone’s religion is, it comes down to the same basic idea of being a good person. And that’s what I think is so awesome about this program. Coach Tressel really speaks out about his faith and things he does and we have a bunch of guys in the past and present who will go and talk to people, taking time out of their day. That is really special here at Ohio State.”