Word on the 'Streit

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Chase Herbstreit paid no attention to the strangers in his house as he made his way across the kitchen floor on a summer morning, struggling to hold a baseball and two gloves while greeting his father. The 2-year-old signaled his arrival with a smile. "Not now, Chase. Here in a little bit, okay?"

Upon hearing those words, Chase's smile quickly faded, yet it still was difficult to see who was more disappointed - the toddler or his father, Kirk Herbstreit, former Ohio State quarterback and current ESPN football analyst.

Such is the life of Herbstreit, 40, who's in the offseason of his schedule. He tries to get in as much time with his family as possible before his season kicks into full gear on September 5 when Alabama plays Virginia Tech in Atlanta. It's the start of the ABC schedule.

Once the football season starts, Herbstreit is on the road Thursday through Sunday and admits to being holed up in his home office "working the phones with coaches and producers" most of the time he's home. "The schedule isn't as bad as you would think," he said. "I used to call Thursday games (on ESPN), and I would leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday and not come back until Sunday."

Taking advantage of the offseason means trying to be as normal a parent as possible when you're one of the most recognizable faces on sports television. He's not unlike many husbands when asked what his offseason schedule is like. He points at his wife, Allison, and says, "I'm on whatever schedule she tells me."

The couple have four sons, including 9-year-old twins Jake and Tye, and 6-year-old Zak, who patiently stood next to Chase with glove in hand, watching and waiting for the interview to end and a game of catch to begin. "Some days it's survive and advance," Herbstreit said of life with four boys.

"Honestly, I really don't have a lot of demands (in the offseason)," Herbstreit said, although Brian Chorpenning, his friend and lawyer, would dispute that minutes later by mentioning a four-hour photo shoot for a commercial later in the day.

With commitments associated with endorsement deals, including with EA Sports on the NCAA Football '10 game, even the down time can fill up quickly. "He makes all of this sound a lot easier than it is," Chorpenning said.

Right now, one of the pressing decisions is about football and whether to allow the twins to play in a full-contact league or give them another season in a flag league. Herbstreit was the assistant to Mike Vrabel, another former Ohio State standout, when they coached in the flag league last season.

Sports not only play a large role in the business of Kirk Herbstreit, but in setting his philosophies. "Mike was the head coach and he coached like he was Bill Belichick. It was really intense. We're at a point in society, in my opinion, where parents are very

different than from when I was a kid. When I was a kid, it was very competitive and not everybody got a trophy just for participating.

"Vrabel's approach was much more old-school, and what I found enjoyable was to see the parents' reaction to that and then the kids' reaction. It was awesome," Herbstreit said. "I thought the parents might be like, 'What's going on?' But at the end of the season, they came up with tears in their eyes and would say things like how their son would look forward to coming to this the whole week. It was really neat."

After coaching the twins in baseball last year, Herbstreit joined the majority of the parents in a cheering role on the sidelines this summer. It was Zak's first season playing and he needed the ability to be at both diamonds at the same time. "I try to sit back and watch, but I'm always offering encouragement and advice on learning. At this age, I feel it's about learning. If a man is at first base and a ground ball is hit to you, what do you do with the ball? So I'm constantly trying to yell out some strategy and some tips. I try really hard not to talk, but I can't help it."

Off the playing field, the household also is run with what Herbstreit calls an "old-school" atmosphere. "There's that term again," he said. "That's the way we run it; we're kind of stern.

"You want it to be all happy times. You don't want to take away from the little bit of time you have when you see something they've made a mistake about. I'm a big advocate of consistency. Regarding discipline, you just have to keep doing it and doing it and doing it as far as we're concerned. We're doing everything we can to help our cause when we get to those dreaded teenage years."

He paused for a few seconds and looked at Allison. "My wife is such a blessing. She's so understanding of my schedule. As much as we kid about it being my turn with the kids (when I get home), she's really not like that at all. I don't know how she does it. I have no idea."

At this point Herbstreit opens up, if just a little bit. "I remember talking to Archie Manning, who I turn to a lot. Because he has three boys and when you meet his family, everyone knows Peyton, Eli and Archie and the great things they do with football, but I get to see them as a family. He always used to talk to me about Olivia, his wife. And Peyton and Eli have talked about their mom.

"Now that I'm kind of experiencing that, I can understand because there are so many demands and things going on, and you have to have that partner who gives you the feeling things are being taken care of. It's very reassuring when you have that."

As normal as Kirk and Allison try to make the family, growing up Herbstreit provides both perks as well as parenting challenges. Jake and Tye have a good understanding not only of what their father does for a living, but also of the status that it brings to him as well as the family.

The Rose Bowl is the only football trip the entire Herbstreit family makes, in part because the event, not just the game, is what Herbstreit calls "the greatest thing in the world."

"For me, the Rose Bowl, because of how I was raised, is like Fantasy Island. So I bring my kids out to that. Probably the greatest thrill I have in my job is the day before the game when the field is being painted - it looks like Augusta National (home of The Masters golf tournament). The grass looks like a fairway. When painted, it is the most prestigious field in all of sports.

"And my kids are out there with me on the field because our set is on the field. They're playing football on the side like they're playing a backyard football game. The highlight is after the game. While I'm doing SportsCenter, behind me (is the 13-year-old son of) the guy who runs the stadium (along with my kids), and they get a 7-on-7 game going on the field. In fact, my family (back in Ohio) will say, 'I think I saw Jake and Tye on Sports Center.' (The boys) don't pay attention to what I'm doing. They just know they're playing football in the Rose Bowl, which is special."

When the GameDay show travels to Columbus, Jake and Tye will join the broadcast for a few minutes. Last season, LeBron James also was on the show.

"Their friends let them know that it's cool that I do what I do," Herbstreit said.

Herbstreit shook his head. "I can only imagine what that's like for an 8- or 9-year-old kid."

There is a downside to their father's fame as the twins already have become wary and uncertain of the intention of others. "They ask me questions that are sometimes tough to answer, being in my position. They'll say, 'Hey, Dad, sometimes I feel like people like us because of who we are.' I have to talk with them about that, (telling them) that they like you because you are a nice guy, and that we're not any more special because of our last name than anybody else. I tell them that I happen to do a job that people see me on TV. I'm in the public eye and we talk about it especially with the twins because they get it the most."

"You can't just be Mom and Dad and then 20 years later re-introduce yourself to each other. You gotta go to dinner every once in a while; you gotta take a weekend and just go stay at a hotel. We have friends who have never had a babysitter. I just can't imagine what that feeling is. I applaud them because that's the way they feel, but we definitely try to get away."

One of their annual trips comes courtesy of his ESPN duties. Herbstreit works the broadcast for the Heisman Trophy presentation, which takes place in mid-December in New York City. The Herbstreits are joined by a few other couples. "You know how Manhattan is at that time of the year, and we get three days in New York City so we have time to go to a Broadway show and have fun."

With both Zak and Chase peeking more frequently around the corner and still clutching gloves, time obviously is growing short, but their presence sets up an obvious question: What do sports teach kids?

After a sensational high school career at Centerville, Herbstreit was the first recruit of former OSU coach John Cooper. He was the starting quarterback and captain as a senior. His father, Jim, was an OSU captain for the 1960 season, making the Herbstreits one of three father-son combinations to hold that honor. As an adult, Herbstreit's ticket to fame and fortune has been though sports.

He encourages but does not push his kids into sports, although this is one time that father believes he knows best. "The reason I want my kids involved with sports, and mainly football, is not for them to go to Ohio State or play in college. But for them hopefully to experience high school football, because there's so much to learn about teamwork. There's so much to learn about work ethic, perseverance, getting knocked down and having to get back up.

"And I think in today's generation, you need to get a true understanding about teamwork and respecting the people around you and working hard to help them and not just yourself. It's about a great work ethic, sacrificing your time and getting up in the morning and doing maybe not the things Marines are doing, but not what the average 18-year-old is doing. If you can do those things and come together with your peers, that is very powerful. And that's why I'm such a big supporter of kids being involved and participating."

Lee Cochran is the sports editor for ThisWeek Community Newspapers. Tune in to 97.1 the FAN every Friday night at 10 p.m. to hear him wrap up High School Football highlights of the week, and catch high school football coverage during Friday Night Live on ThisWeekSports.com.

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