December 10, 2012
'A heck of a coach'
Jake Stoneburner still keeps regular contact with Darrell Hazell, Purdue's new football coach.
Or perhaps it's better to say that Hazell still keeps regular contact with him, maintaining a relationship that began more than six years ago when Stoneburner was being recruited to Ohio State.
"He still, to this day, will text my sisters, my mom, my dad and say 'Thinking about you' or 'Miss you guys' or text them on their birthday when he should have no reason to remember that birthday," said Stoneburner, an outgoing senior at Ohio State. "He just truly cared, and along with that, he's a heck of a coach. He knows football better than anyone I've ever met. He's just a great teacher and a great motivator."
Hazell, a former wide receivers coach at Ohio State, seems to have built those types of relationships with many over the years. And those former players, many of whom are now playing in the NFL, often use the same descriptors for him: a mentor, a father figure, a winner.
"He's got a way with connecting with kids like no other coach I've been around," said Brian Robiskie, a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions who spent four seasons under Hazell at OSU. "That's in college and in the pros. He develops special relationships with all of his guys.
"The big thing with him is that he not only expects the best out of you, but you want to give the best to him. You want to go out there and you want to play hard for him. You know that he's got your back, so you know that when you're on the playing field as a receiver, you want to play hard for him because he worked so hard to make sure you're prepared on game day. You want to play your best, do your job for him because he's meant so much.
"And I think for the team, it's the same way. He put so much into that team, you can't help (but do the same) as a player."
Hazell, who coached two years at Kent State before taking the Purdue job, has a solid track record in building athletes into professionals, with a number of Ohio State wide receivers now playing in the league. From 2004-2010, he coached players such as Santonio Holmes (Jets), DeVier Posey (Texans), Teddy Ginn Jr. (49ers), Brian Hartline (Dolphins) and Robiskie.
But he's been more than a coach to many, as well. Chicago wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher says Hazell helped him make contacts in the business community during his years at OSU, when getting to the NFL wasn't a guarantee.
"And I would just go shadow them for an afternoon or something, totally not related to football, but just life stuff," he said. "It's stuff that you really take away from your player-coach relationship that really had nothing to do with football."
Stoneburner started his relationship with Hazell when he was a 16-year-old wide receiver from Dublin, Ohio. He chose to attend Ohio State, where he played wideout for a couple years until growing into a tight end. But even though he wasn't in the wide receivers meeting room then, Stoneburner still felt a strong connection.
And many felt the same, Stoneburner says.
"Some guys really didn't have a father figure, and on their senior days, they were crying to Coach Hazell saying 'You were like a father to me, and there for everything. Everything I ever needed, you were right there for me,'" he said. "That's something special that a lot of guys can't say they have in coaches. You can ask any player who has played under Coach Hazell as a receiver in his room and they'll all say the same thing about him."
Kent State players must feel the same. In Hazell's two years there, he won 16 games, including 11 this season, the most ever for the Golden Flashes. It ended a 40-year postseason drought.
Now, he's at Purdue.
"I definitely think he'll be successful," Robiskie said. "I think he might not get the same guys that go to Ohio State or Florida or some of those schools, but he's going to get the right kind of guys for his system. He's a no-nonsense guy, doesn't really put up with a lot of B.S. or a lot of egos that you see; he just wants guys that are going to work hard and do what he asks them to do. And you saw that the last couple years. He has a plan and when guys step up and believe in it and are all-in, then it's successful. And I don't think that's going to change with him going to Purdue."
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