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‘They call me ‘Coach Old School’’

Former football player Carlos Snow reflects on returning to Ohio State to finish his degree

Carlos Snow read a book cover-to-cover for the first time when he returned to The Ohio State University in the fall of 2019.

“Other than the Bible, I mean,” he said. “I was really proud of that.”

Snow began his Buckeye journey in the fall of 1987. Almost immediately, he met John Macko in the Student-Athlete Support Services Office (SASSO). Macko has spent the last 38 years working with student-athletes like Snow, providing academic support and helping them navigate the compliance rules of the Big Ten and the NCAA.  

“I’m just a resource,” Macko said. “I drip on them. If they don’t finish, I’m a nudge and I get after them because that’s our commitment to them. We want you to get a great athletic experience but it’s about getting a diploma from Ohio State University. That’s the brass ring.”

Macko retired at the end of last month. It’s fitting that one of his last student-athletes was also one of his first.

“I’ve known Carlos since 1986,” Macko said. “…I’ve known him since he was 17. And he’s 54 now.”

Snow played for the Buckeyes from 1987-1991, missing the 1990 season due to the removal of a benign tumor on his hip. He was named the most valuable player for the 1991 team and the leading rusher for three seasons, still ranking 11th all-time in career rushing yards.

He played for the Denver Broncos in 1992 before suffering a career-ending knee injury. The years that followed were turbulent. Snow experienced homelessness and was charged with impaired driving in 2017.

After that, Snow reconnected with former and once-again mentor Bernard Masters. Masters asked how he was, and Snow began a practiced, upbeat reply.

“I was going to give him the elevator speech ... but I couldn’t look at him,” he said. “It’s like, would’ve been a lie. I was like, ‘no, I can’t lie to that man.’ So, I told him what was going on and this man, when he snaps his fingers, things happen.”

With support from Masters and his family, Snow was able to return to Ohio State through the university’s Degree Completion Program. The program allows student-athletes who received financial aid of any kind and who left the university in good academic standing to return and provides assistance with re-enrollment into Ohio State, tuition, tutoring services and academic counseling.

Snow said the program made all the difference in the world for him.

“I wanted to know if I could really pass,” he said. “I’m not playing football and that’s the great thing about this: You take the athlete away from the student and that’s where I’m getting good grades.”

Support from Gene Smith, senior vice president and Wolfe Foundation Endowed Athletic Director, gave Snow the final push he needed.

“None of this would’ve happened without Gene Smith, without our athletic director,” he said. “He was nice enough to sign that Degree Completion Program for me. When he signed that, I said, ‘I have to make it,’ because that’s big.”

Smith and Macko could see the leadership skills that Snow had. Macko introduced him to a number of student-athletes, including members of the current football team.

“[I met] a couple of the players over there, before Chase Young left, and [JK] Dobbins,” he said, laughing. “They called me ‘Coach Old School.’ I said, ‘Coach Old School?’ I said, ‘I like that.’”

“For them to see a 50-year-old guy coming back to school, in our training area, asking for help, was just tremendous,” Macko said. “Even non-verbally, he shed a lot of insight and power into our student-athletes.”

Snow said asking for help became a regular occurrence. The classroom was a very different place 30 years later. New technology was the first hurdle.

“Computers and me, no,” he said. “That’s a strikeout for me. But I learned how to use it. So, I’m not as good as other people but I can get whatever done.”

This determination is the backbone of Snow’s success. He wanted to finish his degree badly, Macko said. Snow made drastic changes, cutting out socializing with friends and family to focus on his studies.

“I didn’t want to see nothing below a B,” he said. “Everything, it had to be an A or B. And I have to pat myself on the back for that, because it was a lot of work. It was a lot of work.”

Snow graduated with a 3.7 GPA. Receiving his diploma in Ohio Stadium, where he spent so many hours years ago, was a proud moment. Commencement fell on Mother’s Day this year and that made the day even more special. Snow’s mother, whom he calls his best friend, died in 2012.

“I was like, ‘Mama, you done this, on Mother’s Day? You done this. You got your hands in everything,’” he recalled. “I just thought my mother had something to do with it, looking down on me.”

The photo of Snow with his diploma went viral. A beaming smile was proof of a degree hard-won.

“[My diploma] is right on my table. It’s up and I’m waiting until I get an office. … I’m going to have it up,” he said. “That’ll make me work a lot harder.”

Degree in hand, Snow is now polishing his resume. He has volunteered for years with young men, helping them find their paths. The importance of education is something he has always stressed. He hopes to find a job that will allow him to continue that work.

“[Finishing my degree] … was just part one, that was just the first quarter,” he said. “Second quarter, now I got to find me a meaningful job. Then third, I have to maintain. And then, fourth quarter, we would talk about the legacy I would like to leave my children and grandchildren.”

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