Dyer: Nine national celebrities who played Cincinnati area high school football

Posted at 9:00 AM, Aug 23, 2016

CINCINNATI -- The Ohio high school football season officially begins Wednesday night when Summit Country Day plays Purcell Marian at the University of Cincinnati’s Sheakley Athletics Center in the 19th annual Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown.

Thousands of fans will attend season openers this week around the region and continue throughout the 10-game regular season and playoffs. Last season, 44,007 student-athletes played high school football in Ohio.

Each year, the Greater Cincinnati area produces talented players who thrive at the next levels of the sport. This year will certainly be no different.

While some end up having notable careers, others become household names -- sometimes off the gridiron as well. We have noted nine celebrities who played high school football in the Cincinnati area.

This list doesn’t include all current and former college and NFL players. It’s simply individuals in sports or other fields whom you may not have realized played high school football here. (List alphabetical order)

1. John Boehner: The former House Speaker played center and wore No. 54 at Moeller. One of his early inspirations was legendary Moeller coach Gerry Faust, according to a New York Times story in 2010. Faust’s pregame speeches made a significant impression on Boehner, a Reading native, who graduated from Moeller in 1968. Boehner played football from 1964-67. He was basically a backup to a fellow senior in Dan Novakov, according to Moeller archivist Dick Beerman.


Former House Speaker John Boehner played center at Moeller in the 1960s.

2. Jim Bunning: The former U.S. Senator was a “sure-handed” all-city end for St. Xavier on its 1948 football team, according to the school. Best known athletically for his National Baseball Hall of Fame career, Bunning played football all four years at St. X. He also played basketball, baseball and ran track. He graduated in 1949. Bunning threw a perfect game for the Phillies June 21, 1964 -- Father’s Day -- at Shea Stadium. It was the first perfect game in the National League since 1880.

Former U.S. Senator Jim Bunning was an all-city football player at St. Xavier in the 1940s.

3. Cris Carter: The Pro Football Hall of Famer and former ESPN personality is a 1984 Middletown graduate. Carter, a Troy, Ohio native, was a Middletown High School and Ohio State standout. He scored 130 career NFL touchdowns and amassed 1,101 receptions -- both second most at the time of his retirement. He recorded eight straight 1,000-yard seasons. Carter actually played quarterback for the Middies as a freshman but switched to receiver before his sophomore year, according to the Journal-News.

Cris Carter played quarterback his freshman season at Middletown before changing to wide receiver.

4.  Ken Griffey Jr.: One of the newest members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Griffey could throw a football 70 yards in high school, according to former Moeller baseball assistant coach Paul Smith. Griffey played wide receiver for one season, his junior year, at Moeller and won a state championship with the Crusaders in 1985. Moeller defeated Canton McKinley 35-11 in the state final at Ohio Stadium and the Crusaders completed a 13-1 season. Griffey had 10 receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns for the entire season, according to Moeller archivist Dick Beerman.

Best known for baseball, the 1987 Moeller graduate still holds the school’s career batting average at .478. We all know what he did with the Mariners and Reds.

Ken Griffey Jr. was known for baseball at Moeller, but he played wide receiver one season too.

5. Bill Hemmer: The co-host of “America’s Newsroom” weekday mornings on Fox News, Hemmer was an Elder defensive back in 1981 and ’82. Among his high school football career highlights was a game in which he had three interceptions in a 28-14 win at Roger Bacon Oct. 15, 1982. He was an all-city and all-GCL honorable mention selection in ’82.

Bill Hemmer was a defensive back at Elder in the early 1980s. (Elder yearbook photo)

He wore No. 22 at Elder. In the yearbook his senior, he was awarded "Mr. Zip," which stood for "Zeal, Inspiration and Perseverance." The 1983 Elder graduate is known to wear purple neckties on his show on fall football Fridays. 

Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer is a 1983 Elder graduate

6. Isley Brothers: Rudolph and O’Kelly Jr. -- two members of the legendary music group -- played at Sycamore in 1954, just a few years before they recorded "Shout"with brother Ronald in 1959. The late O’Kelly Jr. was a very fast halfback who was likely second or third string, according to former Sycamore coach Bud Acus.

“He was a joy to have because he was always having fun,” Acus said.

Rudolph was a guard who didn’t play very long. O’Kelly’s photo appears with the team in the 1955 Sycamore yearbook. Ronald, the third member of the original group, used to sing with the brothers at talent shows at the school (now Sycamore Junior High School).

Another brother, Vernon, died in a bicycle accident on Cooper Road in Blue Ash in September 1954. He had been a part of the Isley Quartet. The Aviators now play on Bud Acus Alumni Field at the junior high and the setup is very similar to when the Isley brothers played.

“Just the idea that they were Sycamore boys at one time,” Acus said. “It’s a warm feeling to have something like that.”

The late O’Kelly Isley Jr. played halfback for Sycamore in 1954. He is photographed in the second row second from left in this yearbook photo.

7. Barry Larkin: The Baseball Hall of Famer was a standout defensive back at Moeller. Michigan coach Bo Schembechler wanted Larkin to play safety, but the former Reds shortstop opted for baseball after he redshirted his freshman year.

“The best decision Bo Schembechler ever made, in my opinion,” Larkin said, according to the Hall of Fame. “It allowed me to focus on only one sport (baseball) for the first time.”

Larkin, 1982 Moeller graduate, was captain and the MVP for the state runner-up Crusaders in football. It was baseball that eventually gave him national acclaim. He hit .428 at Moeller.

Barry Larkin was a standout defensive back at Moeller and was recruited to play at Michigan.

8. Pete Rose: The Hit King wore No. 55 and played halfback for Western Hills. One teammate remembered Rose had a knack for changing directions at full speed. He had 59 yards rushing in the Western Hills Maroon-Mustangs’ 31-14 win over host Elder on Thanksgiving Day Nov. 27, 1958 at The Pit. The Western Hills offensive line averaged 185 pounds in ’58. Rose graduated in 1960 in a ceremony held at Music Hall.

Pete Rose was a talented halfback for Western Hills in the late 1950s.

9. Roger Staubach: The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback is a 1960 Purcell High School graduate (now Purcell Marian). The Silverton native was known for his accurate passes and elusive running. He won the Heisman Trophy as a junior quarterback for the Naval Academy in 1963. He guided the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl rings including MVP honors in Super Bowl VI. He was all-NFC five years and finished with 22,700 career passing yards.

Roger Staubach played at Purcell High School in the 1950s.

Don’t forget

Joe Nuxhall: The Ol’ Lefthander was an all-state football fullback as a senior at Hamilton High School. A tough, physical runner, Nuxhall was also a basketball standout who earned state player of the year honors, according to the Hamilton athletic department. He graduated from Hamilton in 1947. The late Nuxhall became the youngest player in modern major league history June 10, 1944 at age 15 when he pitched for the Reds at Crosley Field.

Dave Parker: Football was the first love for Parker in high school at Courter Tech High School. If he hadn’t torn up his knee, he may have taken a football scholarship to Ohio State instead of signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Parker graduated from Courter Tech in 1970.

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