KENT: If it hadn’t been for the surprising scandal that cost football coach Jim Tressel his job at Ohio State, it’s a sure bet that Kent Roosevelt quarterback Tra’Von Chapman would be a proud Buckeye-to-be.
But the revelation of transgressions that included players accepting cash and free or discounted tattoos that shocked the football community also rocked Chapman’s world, turning his long-laid college plans upside down.
Now, following months of searching to find the perfect Plan B, Chapman is content to begin his senior season with the Rough Riders having settled on playing at the University of Pittsburgh next fall.
So how did the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Chapman tab Pitt while forsaking nearby Kent State where his father, Thad Jemison, and one of his mentors, Darrell Hazell, coach, along with his hometown school of Cincinnati?
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Chapman said. “My dad played at Ohio State and we, coach Tressel and coach Hazell are all so connected. Growing up, I was a Buckeye through most of high school. But when that stuff went down with Tressel leaving, it changed everything.”
There were plenty of reasons for Chapman to feel comfortable at each of the schools as he whittled down the pile. It was a close group of friends and mentors who helped guide him toward the decision that was best for him.
“He’s the whole package,” Kent Roosevelt coach John Nemec said of Chapman, a dual-threat quarterback who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and rushed for another 800 with just eight interceptions and 29 touchdowns as a junior. “He’s a tremendous student with a 3.5 GPA [grade-point average] and a just a great leader. Tra’Von is a fine young man in every way.”
While choosing the next stop in his football career, Nemec said Chapman spent a lot of time with him and his wife “running things by us” as offers from schools began pouring in for the Division II Northeastern Ohio Offensive Player of the Year.
“He had offers from a bunch of schools, 11 in all,” Nemec said. “Arizona State, Boston College, all the MAC schools, Illinois, Northwestern and more I’m forgetting. There were three things priority-wise that he was looking for: relationship, location and the educational opportunity. which helped us begin the process of narrowing them down.
“If he would have taken a Mid-American Conference school, it would have been Kent State. Not only with his dad there, but he and coach Darrell Hazell are very close, too. But Tra was looking at other possibilities with BCS schools and eventually narrowed his decision down to Pitt, Cincinnati and Wisconsin. Once he got it down to those three, we felt all had great staffs that really put their kids first and he couldn’t go wrong.”
In addition to the Nemecs, Chapman also elicited the help of Hazell and Tressel, who is now working at the University of Akron.
Chapman’s ties with the two coaches come by way of his father, who was a receiver for the Buckeyes from 1980 to 1983 and remained close with the program throughout the years. Now in his second season as receivers coach at Kent State, Jemison was in the tough position of being a father who wanted the best for his son while being a coach paid to help improve the football team at his new school.
“Kent State was in consideration because of coach Hazell,” Jemison said. “And coach Tressel’s been very influential in Tra’s life probably since he’s been in the seventh grade. With those two guiding him and me sort of stuck in the middle in being his dad and working at Kent State, I tried to stay out of it and let Tra make the decision that was best for him. I’m the kind of father that gives him advice and helps him with the pros and cons of a situation. But I allow him to make his own decisions.
“Coaches would nag me all the time, ‘Have you talked to Tra?’ I’d just smile and shake my head and say, ‘I honestly don’t know where he’s going to go.’ Let me tell you, it’s hard to be a father and at the same time be a coach. But I was his father long before I ever thought anything about coaching and that’s where I tried to stay.”
Jemison said that when his son’s college choices came down to the four options of Kent State, Pitt, Wisconsin and Cincinnati, he knew he couldn’t go wrong.
“Ultimately, I think what it came down to was that UC is too close with too many friends from where we’re from in Cincinnati,” Jemison said. “Wisconsin is probably way too far, as he’d have to worry about if his mom and grandma could come see him play. So that just left Pitt and Kent State.
“In the end, I think it’d be hard for any kid to go to the same school where his father works. I also remember telling him when he was younger that I wanted him to eventually branch out so I could see him grow. Now, I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but maybe he was listening. Half of me wanted him to be [at KSU] with me, the other half thought ‘it’s time for him to go grow up.’ ”
Chapman knows he’s blessed to have a mentor like Hazell, who didn’t think twice in putting the well-being of a teenaged friend ahead of what might make his job a lot easier by bringing in help for a position of need.
“Coach Hazell was a really good mentor throughout the whole process, but he understood that Kent State probably wasn’t for me,” Chapman said. “In the beginning, I did feel a little loyalty to KSU because they were the first team to offer. Then again, I knew I had to do what was best for me.”
Aside from being close to home, Chapman was weary of returning to Cincinnati.
“Part of the reason I left Cincinnati [to come live with his father in Kent] is because there’s a lot of negative things happening there,” he said. “I wanted to stay out of trouble and keep focused on school and football. If I would have gone back to Cincinnati for college, those same negative things would have been there.”
In the end, that’s why Chapman believed Pitt offered the best mix of everything he was looking for.
“Pitt gave me the best chance to grow as a man, without being too far away,” he said. “That, and the [Paul Chryst] coaching staff made me feel comfortable. The facilities, the way the uniforms look, going to a situation where I might be able to play right away might be what some kids look for. But for me, I feel comfortable saying I can see myself there for four years. Those coaches, they blew it out of the water to me.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.