JIM KARSATOS : Former Sunny Hills High Quarterback Finally Gets His Chance at Ohio State

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Only Jim Karsatos’ long-time Orange County friends can detect the slight Midwestern accent that the former Sunny Hills High School quarterback says he has acquired since attending Ohio State University the last 3 1/2 years.

But if that’s not enough to convince you that Karsatos has adapted to the Midwest, note that his hobbies now include duck hunting on Lake Erie and fishing. He also likes country and western music and the Southern folk rock sounds of Jimmy Buffett.

Karsatos definitely has changed--he has endeared himself to the Midwestern life style.

But now, it’s time for Karsatos to pique the interest of Midwesterners.


After a year of rehabilitation for a knee injury, a year as a redshirt and two years on the bench, Karsatos, 22, will finally be the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback this fall.

It’s a chance for Karsatos to become a hero in this football-crazed city, where former Buckeye Coach Woody Hayes is still worshiped and where a loss to Big 10 rival Michigan is frowned upon with the same sort of disgust that is reserved for foreign automobiles.

It’s a chance for Karsatos to fulfill the expectations that Coach Earle Bruce and his staff had when the quarterback was busy throwing for 2,750 yards and 23 touchdowns and earning The Times’ Orange County Back of the Year honors at Sunny Hills High School in 1980.

It’s a chance for Karsatos to develop into a legitimate professional prospect, as did his predecessors, Art Schlichter and Mike Tomczak, who were both drafted by National Football League teams.


And it’s an opportunity Karsatos plans to utilize.

“Some people say that (sophomore quarterback) Tom Tupa is going to beat me out, but I’m sorry,” Karsatos said. “You know, I like Tom, we’re friends and we’re going to room together this summer, but there’s no way he’s going to beat me.

“I’ve waited too long for this and I know the offense like a book, so I’m not going to give in a bit. I’ll be on a constant high starting in August, when we begin practice. I’m so anxious to get started that this will probably be the longest summer of my life.”

Well, maybe not the longest.


There was that fateful summer of 1981, during which Karsatos spent 10 days in a hospital bed pondering his future, wondering if he would ever play football again.

Karsatos was completing a dream senior year at Sunny Hills, where he set an Orange County single-season passing yardage record and led the Lancers to the Southern Conference semifinals. He helped the basketball team advance to the 2-A semifinals and also was a member of the Lancers’ co-ed badminton team, which won a Southern Section championship in the spring.

But the year turned sour on the night of June 22, 1981, when Karsatos was hit from the blindside in the Orange County All-Star football game and suffered torn ligaments in his right knee.

Three days later, Dr. Lewis Yocum performed surgery to repair the ligaments and, fortunately for Karsatos, he found no damage to the main cartilage in the knee.


But Yocum’s associate, Dr. Robert Kerlan, still thought Karsatos would have to give up football, and probably walk with a limp.

Karsatos thought his career was over. He was a confused young man.

He didn’t know whether to follow through with his commitment to Ohio State or stay home and attend Fullerton College. He knew the Buckeye coaches, who left the decision of whether to play in the All-Star game up to him, would be upset.

He also was upset because he would not be able to fulfill one of his long-time goals--playing in the Southern California Shrine game. Karsatos was the first Sunny Hills player to be selected for the game, and his picture was on the cover of the program.


Also, his girlfriend at the time was preparing to move to New Mexico to attend college.

“Everything was going through my mind,” Karsatos said. “I didn’t know which way to think.”

Karsatos eventually made it to Ohio State, but not until January, 1982. There, he compounded his problems by rarely going to class during the spring quarter and failing two of his three courses.

He received his share of criticism from the coaching staff, which constantly had to make sure he was studying.


Karsatos was homesick and considered transferring to USC, which was still offering a scholarship. But he chose to remain at Ohio State.

“I’m glad I didn’t do that now,” Karsatos said. “I’ve learned over the years that all those things were for my own good. They’re part of the maturing process. The coaches don’t yell at me anymore and I don’t get calls at 8 a.m. to go to study hall.”

Karsatos doesn’t regret his decision to play in that All-Star game, either.

“I’d still tell a kid to play because that’s what he’s worked for throughout high school,” he said. “I just had a fluke thing happen to me. I’d do it again because you get to play with a lot of super guys.”


The knee is 100% healthy, according to Karsatos. He played intramural basketball during the winter and volleyball during the spring. He wore a knee brace during spring football practice this year, but he doesn’t plan to wear one in the fall.

The 6-foot 4-inch, 220-pounder has regained most of his mobility and his speed is decent. His time in the 40-yard dash, which was 5.9 seconds during his first year at Ohio State, is 4.75.

Bruce said that Karsatos, who started two games last year in relief of the injured Tomczak and threw for about 200 yards, will be his quarterback this fall unless he “breaks a leg or stumbles and falls.” Karsatos is ready.

“I think I’m at the point where the mental and physical parts of my game are together and my confidence level is high,” Karsatos said. “It took time for me to be able to deal with everything, but I’m ready to start.”


There’s a little more to being the Ohio State quarterback than being healthy and confident, though. Quarterbacks and star football players in this city receive as much publicity as the mayor.

There may be more than 50,000 students at Ohio State, but Buckeye quarterbacks simply don’t blend in. They are always recognized in the crowd, singled out, placed on a pedestal.

After Ohio State lost to USC in January’s Rose Bowl, Bruce invited Karsatos to his home for dinner to discuss his expectations concerning Karsatos’ image.

Bruce told Karsatos that everyone will be watching him, on and off the field, and that there will be a lot of pressure. He added that returning running back Keith Byers, who finished second to Doug Flutie in the Heisman Trophy voting, isn’t a vocal type, so Karsatos would have to do the bulk of the talking.


Karsatos also has discussed the matter with former Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin and both Schlichter and Tomczak. Their advice: Take everything in stride.

“It’s an uncomfortable situation and it’s something I’ll have to get used to,” Karsatos said. “I’m really afraid to make a mistake.”

He seems to be doing the right things so far. He has worked for the Special Olympics during each of the past four summers and he’s been a co-chairman for the Central Ohio Diabetes Assn. for the past two years. He’s helping Hayes run a boys camp for the mentally retarded this summer and soon will participate in a celebrity golf tournament.

“There are a lot of demands on a quarterback’s time on and off the field, but Jim is more mature than anyone on our team,” Bruce said. “He’s not like a first-quarter sophomore taking over. I tell him he’ll be older than I am by the time he gets out of here.”


Karsatos, a communications major who is a senior academically but is eligible to play two more seasons, will gain even more exposure and experience with the media this summer. He recently began an internship with local television station WBNS.

He’ll be working in the news room, preferably in the sports department, he said, and doing some spots on location. The 40-hour-a-week job should keep him occupied enough to carry him through the summer.

Then, the fun begins. Fall will hit Columbus as the students return to school. Nearby High Street, which is lined with 64 bars but lies relatively dormant during the summer, will be buzzing with activity.

Football fever will be in the air.


“Football Saturdays here are nuts,” Karsatos said. “It’s uncanny. Games start at about 1:30 p.m. but people are already filling up Ohio Stadium at 10:30. Michigan weekends are the most incredible. People think USC-UCLA games are loud, but Michigan-Ohio State games are just thunder.

“Buckeye football is the only game in town. There’s a lot of tradition here and it can be intimidating.”

But relax, Jim Karsatos can handle it.