Football may be a religion in Texas, but in Ohio, the sport is king.
Need proof? The NFL Hall of Fame is located in Canton. McKinley High School and its Fawcett Field (home to the Hall of Fame game) sit right next door to where the busts of the greatest of the greatest reside.
Fawcett Field was built in 1939 for $500,000 and could originally seat 15,000 people. The stadium can currently accommodate 22,400 people. Now that is a high school football field.
About 20 minutes away, McKinley High’s arch rival, Massillon Washington High School, is nationally known for its football team. Their home, Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, holds 18,000 people. At every home game, a tiger cub sits on the sidelines in honor of the team’s mascot. In fact, when baby boys are born at Massillon hospital they leave the hospital with a mini football.
When McKinley and Massillon play each other every year, it’s the only high school game that features odds in Las Vegas.
Football in middle America means everything.
Just two hours away from Canton and Massillon sits Ada, Ohio. So what does football mean to a town with a population of roughly 6,000? Well, it houses Wilson, the world’s only dedicated football factory. The Wilson Football factory opened in 1955, and continues to hand make every single NFL game ball.
Literally with the smell of pigskin in the air, growing up it was only fitting for homegrown Ada boy and current Broncos’ quarterback Zac Dysert to gravitate toward football.
Dysert holds a unique spot in Ohio’s high school football record books. He’s second on the state’s all-time passing yardage list with 11,174 yards. His senior year, he threw for 3,714 yards and 35 touchdowns even though he had to miss three-and-a-half games due to a broken thumb. When all was said and done, Dysert threw 100 touchdowns during his high school career. It’s easy to see why the now 6’3,” 221-pound rookie quarterback gave up hockey.
Dysert stayed in Ohio and played football for Miami University, where he was the school’s first ever three-time captain. During a game against Temple as a redshirt freshman, he threw for 426 yards and three touchdowns. It was clear that production wise, there wasn’t much of a decline since his high school days. By the time his senior year wrapped up, Dysert was listed 20th on the NCAA’s all-time passing yardage list.
The next obvious step was the pros.
“This is what I’ve been working for my whole life,” Dysert said after a rainy Broncos’ walk-through. “I’m just trying to take advantage of it right now, just taking it one day at a time, just trying to make sure I do everything the right way.”
Playing behind and learning from arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game makes playing with the third team worth it.
“It’s mind blowing sometimes because he was the guy I always looked up to,” Dysert said of Peyton Manning. “He was the guy I watched on Sundays. To be able to be in the same room as him, talk to him and pick his brain, it’s great. He’s got all the experience in the world.”
Taken in the seventh round of the 2013 draft, Dysert has made solid contributions both in the team scrimmage and in the first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.
In the intrasquad scrimmage, Dysert helped move the offense to the 13-yard line with a few completions to his fellow rookie wide receivers and to his tight end. The Broncos got a Matt Prater field goal out of his production.
Then in preseason game No. 1, Dysert went 3-for-3 for 16 yards and helped put the Broncos in position for a Prater 46-yard field goal.
“I think I did okay for my first game,” Dysert said. “I still have a lot to work on, but it was awesome just to be able to get out there.”
Dysert likely won’t see any action during the regular season, but he should see more reps in the Broncos’ last two preseason games.
The transition to Colorado from Ohio won’t exactly be the easiest for Dysert. He’s going from being a household name with flowing blonde locks to being a short-haired workman-like third-string quarterback in the pros.
Once training camp ends, Dysert will have a new roommate – his best friend from high school and college. A little hometown influence and support certainly can’t hurt.
After all, this is the guy who comes from a place where football is first-class royalty and pigskin permeates the lungs. Literally.