Kataclysm Andy (the Big Kat) Katzenmoyer, Ohio State's explosive linebacker, has one small season-threatening weakness: the classroom

August 30, 1998

Has there been some misunderstanding? I have come to Ohio State
to talk to Andy Katzenmoyer, the Buckeyes' sensational middle
linebacker. On the morning of a scheduled interview, however,
the Big Kat is nowhere to be found. Maybe he thinks I want to do
more than carry on a conversation with him. Maybe he thinks I
want him to carry a C average.

That, as a nosy nation knows, has proved to be a tall order for
Katzenmoyer. On Sept. 4, the day before Ohio State's opener at
West Virginia, Katzenmoyer and two of his teammates will find
out if their performance in a second session of summer school
was enough to nudge them to C-level and back into the realm of
the academically eligible. If Katzenmoyer sounded a bit weary
when he assured SI recently, "Don't worry, I'm going to pass,"
who could blame him? Local TV stations have taken to following
him to class. The last time the republic so concerned itself
with the academic performance of a few undergrads, Dean Wormer
had just placed Delta Tau Chi on double-secret probation.

On this fine Columbus morning in June, the day after final
exams, it seems that Katzenmoyer has fallen off the face of the
earth. There's no sign of him in the weight room at the Woody
Hayes Center; there's no response to messages left in his
locker, on his answering machine or at his parents' house in
Westerville, 12 miles north of Columbus. What the hell, a
reporter thinks as lunchtime comes and goes, I've been stood up
by better players than this guy.

Except, from everything I hear, that's probably not true.
Katzenmoyer is 6'4", 255 pounds, has run a 4.58 40, benches 450
pounds and closes on the football like Al Sharpton on a live
microphone. "He's a physical freak," says Buckeyes coach John
Cooper, "and I mean that positively."

As a true freshman two years ago, Katzenmoyer was named
second-team All-America, having forced his way into an Ohio
State defensive lineup that sent seven players to the NFL. Last
season, he called the defensive signals for the Buckeyes, was
everyone's All-America and won the Butkus Award as the nation's
top linebacker.

I sulk, in his absence, in the Ohio State sports information
office, perusing his clip file, in which stories on his winning
the Butkus and being arrested for drinking and driving run
roughly even. Both are now outnumbered, no doubt, by accounts of
his academic brinksmanship. At around 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 27, the
20-year-old Katzenmoyer was pulled over two blocks from his
apartment in Columbus and found to have a blood-alcohol level of
.133, .033 over the legal limit in a state with a minimum
drinking age of 21. He pleaded no contest in March to a charge
of drunken driving and hasn't said much about the episode since.
You can't blame the guy for being a little shell-shocked: While
it's not unusual for a sophomore to screw up royally, it's less
typical for a college kid to see his transgressions aired the
following night on SportsCenter.

What have we here? Amid the clips is a questionnaire Katzenmoyer
filled out as a freshman. It includes his SAT scores, which were
healthy, and his high school grades, which weren't. This jibes
with what Cooper tells me about the Big Kat, that he's a bright
guy "who has no interest in school. He's here to play football."
That's news to nobody now that Katzenmoyer's aversion to
studying has made for plenty of headlines. After an academic
year in which his average fell below the required 2.0, in June
he embarked on a first round of three summer school courses,
which he passed with an A and two B's. Nobody will know for sure
until that first week in September whether he will be on the
field this season (THE LIFE OF REILLY, page 156). When defensive
coordinator Fred Pagac says Katzenmoyer is "a big-time hitter
who has excellent speed, excellent movement and is a great
reader," he doesn't mean the Big Kat belongs to several book
clubs.

Lying around the office are several hagiographies of Woody
Hayes. While waiting for Katzenmoyer, I skim one. Hayes, I
learn, was eulogized by his close friend Richard Nixon. "I knew
him to be a man with a remarkable grasp of history and foreign
policy," Nixon intoned. "Woody Hayes understood the great forces
that moved the world."

Gravity? Soft money? What was Nixon talking about? Although
Cooper's funeral is unlikely to be attended by heads of state,
he likewise understands at least one of the world's great
forces: the primacy of youth. "Andy comes in here as a freshman
and he's"--Cooper laughs, the recollection making him
giddy--"he's bigger than any of the other linebackers, he's
faster than any of 'em, and he's stronger than any of 'em. So,
with all due respect to those guys, we had to find a place for
Andy Katzenmoyer."

There was no rush on the part of his teammates to embrace the
Big Kat, whom the upperclassmen starters on defense regarded as
a gate-crasher. It didn't help that Katzenmoyer had requested
and been granted permission to wear number 45, which had been
unofficially retired after Archie Griffin wore it while winning
consecutive Heisman Trophies in 1974 and '75. Buckeyes
traditionalists weren't assuaged--were, in fact, further ticked
off--that Katzenmoyer sought the number not out of any reverence
for Griffin but because he'd been wearing it since ninth grade.

Audacity of this magnitude from a freshman was last seen in
Columbus in 1984, when linebacker Chris Spielman spent the first
half of the Buckeyes' opener pacing behind then coach Earl
Bruce, shouting, "Play me!" Bruce did insert Spielman in the
second half, and Spielman never came out. Ohio State has turned
out its share of formidable linebackers, including Spielman, Tom
Cousineau, Randy Gradishar, Pepper Johnson, Marcus Marek and
Steve Tovar. The Big Kat could be better than any of them.

He also could be in Tahiti, for all I know. When there's still
no sign of him the following morning, sports information
director Gerry Emig and I stake out Katzenmoyer's apartment.
Through a dusty pane we can make out a room bereft of
furnishings. "They might have moved out," says Emig, scribbling
a note to stuff under the door, "although I'm not sure how much,
if any, furniture they had to begin with."

Emig and I are in need of a break from each other, so he heads
back to the office; I head north, to Westerville. I will track
the Big Kat on his home turf.

First stop, Westerville South High, home of the Wildcats. When I
ask the football coach there, Rocky Pentello, to assign
Katzenmoyer a ranking among players he has coached, who include
former Penn State and current Cincinnati Bengals running back
Ki-Jana Carter, he says, "Do I think Ki-Jana was on the level
that Andy is? No. I truly believe this: With Andy Katzenmoyer,
God said, 'I'm gonna make me the best linebacker that's ever
been.'"

It seemed for a time that God had said, with regards to
Katzenmoyer, "I'm gonna make me a sumo wrestler." At age 13 "he
was about 5'6", 230 pounds," Dianne Katzenmoyer tells me later
of her only son, the youngest of her three children. In fact,
she says, "he weighed 230 pounds for about six years. He would
grow laterally, and then he would grow vertically." During
checkups, Andy would ask the family doctor why he was so big, if
something was wrong. At school, he was teased mercilessly. He
doesn't deny that every time he annihilates a running back, he
is taking a bit of revenge.

Blowing up ballcarriers is Katzenmoyer's calling card. Last
season he drew a bead on Missouri option quarterback Corby
Jones, who had been tormenting the Buckeyes until midway through
the second quarter, when the Big Kat waylaid him with a hit that
left Jones's chin strap around the bridge of his nose. At the
time, Missouri led 10-7. Ohio State won 31-10. "Jones landed
five yards behind the point of contact," marvels Buckeyes
tailback Joe Montgomery. "Andy doesn't just hit you, he explodes
through you."

I leave Westerville South and, feeling a bit like a stalker,
knock on the door of the Katzenmoyer family house, the address of
which I've lifted from the questionnaire I probably wasn't
supposed to see. No answer. I leave a note and then find a pay
phone. Emig has good news. "I just spoke with Andy. Can you be
here in 15 minutes?"

Things you first notice about Katzenmoyer: the direct gaze, the
disarming smile, the neck so implausibly thick that you half
expect to see bolts protruding from it. He apologizes for the
mix-up. He hadn't gone to the weight room yesterday, his parents
had been out of town, and he'd moved out of the apartment.

Katzenmoyer doesn't pretend to be using Ohio State as anything
but a stepping-stone to the NFL, which is where he'll probably
play next season. The hoary notion of loyalty to one's school
elicits this response from him: "My first loyalty is to my
family. After next year, hopefully I'll be making millions and
millions of dollars. I'll be in a position to take care of my
wife and kids [as of now, it should be noted, he has neither],
and their kids. Why risk it?"

He comes, ironically, from a family that places a high value on
higher learning. Dianne, who has undergraduate degrees in
education and zoology, is an educational consultant and teaches
at a community college; Andy's father, Warren, a wildlife
biologist with a master's degree, is the budget administrator
for Ohio's Division of Wildlife. Asked if she is saddened by the
low priority her son has assigned to education, Dianne says,
"Absolutely not. I always wanted my children to be able to do
what they wanted to do, be able to express their excellence. We
sent him to college to learn how to earn a living."

In the wake of Andy's latest academic fumbles, she rises to his
defense, pointing out that while he isn't a threat to make the
dean's list, Andy hasn't spent all his time in Columbus at the
Java Hut. Division I football takes up time, she says, adding,
"You can get a degree in ballet, in vocal music, sculpture--even
in tuba. Maybe you should be able to get a degree in football."

This latest brush with ineligibility increases the already
strong chance that this will be Katzenmoyer's final amateur
season. To enter the NFL draft, a player must be at least three
years removed from high school. Katzenmoyer considered
challenging this restriction following his sophomore season but
had no desire to become a test case. "I would have been stuck in
court for a year," he says. "I'd rather spend that year getting
better and having fun in college."

But not too much fun. In the moments after he was pulled over in
his car on Feb. 27, word somehow got out that campus police had
reeled in a big fish. "Within about three minutes there were
four or five cop cars on the scene," says Buckeyes guard Rob
Murphy, who was also in the car, and who, along with starting
strong safety Damon Moore, are the other two Buckeyes keeping
their fingers crossed until summer school grades are posted.
"There were campus police, city police, police on bikes."

Were his parents mortified? "They were glad it happened," says
Andy. "They saw me getting a little wild, a little off track. I
learned a pretty valuable lesson. I can still have fun, just not
as much. If this is the worst thing that happens to me, then I'm
glad it happened. Mostly, I'm glad no one got hurt."

In addition to paying a $300 fine, plus court costs; in addition
to being sentenced to spend a weekend in an alcohol treatment
program ("They showed us videos of all the horrible things"
drinking can lead to, Katzenmoyer says); in addition to taking
part in Ohio State's drug education program, which includes
random drug and alcohol testing for roughly a year, he had his
license suspended for 180 days.

Katzenmoyer is eager to put talk of his arrest and grades behind
him, to lead Ohio State to a Big Ten and national title and to
put up the eye-popping numbers he did as a freshman. After
having led the Buckeyes in tackles-for-loss (23) and sacks (12)
two seasons ago--both school records for a linebacker--he saw
those numbers drop to 13 and two in 1997. That's what can happen
when three of the four defensive linemen in front of you ascend
to the NFL. This season, with a strengthened and more seasoned
front four, it will be tougher for opponents to double- and
triple-team Katzenmoyer, who expects big things from himself--as
does the rest of Ohio.

Not everyone knows who he is, though. Pentello and Katzenmoyer
were sitting in a golf cart recently, waiting to tee off at
Westerville's Little Turtle Country Club, when a six-year-old
boy running a lemonade stand approached them. "I don't know your
name," the youngster said to Katzenmoyer, "but I've seen you
before."

"Stupid!" said the boy's older sister, slugging him in the arm.
"That's the Big Kat!"

Katzenmoyer regards himself as a different breed of cat. Upon
hearing Cooper's description of him as a freak, he frowns. "I
wouldn't say freak," he says. "Every 10 or 15 years, a new breed
of athlete comes along: bigger, faster, stronger. I see myself
as a new breed of athlete."

Katzenmoyer is rippling proof that even a postmodern athlete,
such as he fancies himself, can fall prey to such old-fashioned
problems as studying too little and drinking too much. The hard
lessons of the past seven months have him longing for the
sanctuary of the 1998 season, when he'll be one of the great
forces moving the college football world--assuming he's eligible.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN LANKER COVER Ohio State is No. 1* *If Andy Katzenmoyer Makes the Grade [Andy Katzenmoyer] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN LANKER/SET DESIGN BY BRADLEY GARLOCK/JUDY CASEY INC. [Andy Katzenmoyer wearing torn uniform on smoke-filled field with fallen players and hurtling referee] COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE L. SCHWARTZMAN (2) [Andy Katzenmoyer making tackle in game] COLOR PHOTO: BRUCE L. SCHWARTZMAN (2) No. 1 reason Katzenmoyer, a junior, is NFL-ready but chose not to challenge the draft rules. So he remains in Columbus, where he's the key to the Buckeyes' national-title plans. [Andy Katzenmoyer celebrating with teammates in game] COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN LANKER Earning power A student of the game but little else, Andy gets support from Mom: "We sent him to college to learn to make a living." [Andy Katzenmoyer]

He runs the 40 in 4.58, bench-presses 450 pounds and closes on
the football like Al Sharpton on a live microphone.

"Every 10 or 15 years, a new breed of athlete comes along;
bigger, faster, stronger. I see myself as a new breed."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)