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Ohio State Club Football team headed to national championship

It’s late evening in November on a grass field at Fred Beekman Park at the edge of The Ohio State University. It’s cold, it’s dark and the quarterback is missing.

So James Grega, head coach of the Ohio State Club Football team and a former quarterback himself, steps under center to help the team practice. They’re getting ready to face Georgia’s Columbus State University in a playoff semi-final in North Carolina and they need to be sharp.

This all-hands-on-deck attitude is typical for the club football team. The players are not on scholarships and often hold jobs. Sometimes they have to miss practice. But the players and coaches of the top-ranked team will do whatever it takes to win.

“Rain or shine, we’re out here and it’s a commitment,” Grega said. “Some guys have class, some guys have exams and they can’t make it to every practice. But we do take it very seriously because even though it’s fun and it’s an opportunity for these guys to play football again, it is still football and we want to be competitive.”

The student-run, club football team is one of more than 1,300 student organizations at Ohio State. The club football team was founded in 2009 and joined the National Club Football Association in 2012.

The team has improved each year, posting winning records since 2016. Quarterback Kellyn Gerenstein may have missed the early moments of that mid-November practice, but he completed 14-of-29 passes for 192 yards and one score and rushed 14 times for 60 yards and another touchdown to beat the Columbus State Cougars 17-14. Now Grega and the Buckeyes are 8-0, champions of their conference and playing for a national title next month.

Grega was first a player and is now head coach. By day, he works in the communications office of the Moritz College of Law.

“I love playing. When the opportunity arose to come back as a coach, I jumped at it,” Grega said. “I jumped at it, because I know what this team meant to me as a player and I wanted to help grow that experience for the guys who are currently on the team.”

Just like his players, Grega wears a lot of hats. He’s the coach, he helps fundraising for the team, organizes practices and takes turns behind the wheel when the team drives to road games.

As the club team continues to grow in popularity, players keep signing up. Between 35 and 50 players join each year for a chance to wear scarlet and gray.

“Everyone here loves to play football,” said KC Cress, a senior marketing major, who plays linebacker/safety. “The guys on the team, we’re all so tight and I just love playing the game too.”

Teamwork, camaraderie, a love of the game: Players keep coming back to those themes when they explain why they put on a helmet and pads, head out in the cold and rain and try to knock out the opposing team. This isn’t flag football. It’s full contact and it’s not uncommon for the club players to take a beating during the season.

“Man, I love the season that we’ve had. You can look at our record and our rankings and say it’s a great season because of that,” said Geoff Green, a speech and hearing sciences graduate student. “But I like it more because the camaraderie, the brotherhood that we’ve developed. It’s a great group of guys. I think what makes us so strong as a team on the field is we actually spend time together off the field. We hang out, we eat together, we do stuff together.”

Cress agrees.

“Everyone’s just dedicated. We’ve got a bunch of guys that bought in. I think our camaraderie plays a lot into it too,” he said. “We've got a lot of talent out here and a lot of guys who care and they want to be out here.”

The joy of playing football and the chance to play with friends is just part of the attraction. School pride also plays a role.

“It’s another opportunity to represent The Ohio State University. With a school like this, Buckeye pride is really, really strong,” Green said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the varsity team in the NCAA or the club team; we still wear that name with pride.”

There’s more than a name shared between the scholarship team and the club team. They share a similar plan to win.

“We’d be stupid to not model ourselves after Ryan Day and Urban Meyer and the things that they've done,” Grega said. “So we take the plan from them: great special teams, score in the red zone and play great defense.

“And again, it really helps when you’ve got a great group of players who bought into winning, who were out here in 20- to 30-degree weather practicing and trying to win a championship.”

The Buckeyes will make their first-ever appearance in the NCFA National Championship Game on Dec. 7 against the Oakland Grizzlies. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at West Liberty University in Wheeling, WV.

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