There was a time when Jerry Ostroski had ideas of becoming a professional baseball player.
At Owen J. Roberts High School in Collegeville, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, Ostroski hit .428 in his last two seasons as a catcher, first baseman and designated hitter.
“I’d have to say baseball was my first love as a kid,” he said.
Why did he change his mind?
“I started growing,” he said.
And growing, and growing, and growing.
So football took over, and four years later Ostroski is the University of Tulsa’s first All-American in 19 years. At 6-feet-4 and 305 pounds, he is a prime pro prospect at offensive guard and a likely source of trouble for San Diego State’s fragile defense in the Freedom Bowl Monday night at Anaheim Stadium.
“I was up to 6-2 and 280 by my senior year in high school,” Ostroski said. “After that, I kind of forgot about baseball.”
Still, it was quite a while before Ostroski entertained serious thoughts of a career in the NFL.
“When I first got to college, I just wanted to play football and get a good education,” he said. “I didn’t think about the pros until last year.”
At that time, Ostroski was Tulsa’s strong tackle, which in Coach David Rader’s nomenclature meant that he lined up on the same side as the tight end. This season, he was moved to quick guard, meaning that he lined up on the opposite side of the tight end, and teamed with center Todd McGuire to form a fearsome pair of blockers in the middle of the line.
All-American voters tend to lean toward players from winning teams, and when the Golden Hurricane compiled a 9-2 record and handed Texas A&M; its only defeat of the season, Ostroski was the man who drew the most attention. He made the first team picked by the Football Writers Assn. of America, then repeated in voting by The Associated Press.
When that happened, Ostroski was no longer an anonymous offensive lineman at a school that isn’t known as a football power. Suddenly, he was a celebrity, and he had trouble adjusting to the role.
“It’s a thrill, but I’m not used to it,” he said. “It has taken up a lot of my time.”
When Ostroski went home to visit his family before heading west with the team, he spoke at several luncheons and dinners and gave countless television and radio interviews.
And all that was anticlimactic after Ostroski’s NBC-TV appearance Dec. 18 on Bob Hope’s Christmas show, his reward for being named to the AP All-America team. He went to Nashville for the taping, which was done Dec. 14 and 15 at the Grand Ole Opry.
When Hope introduced Ostroski, he quipped, “Twenty-one years ago, Jerry Ostroski made history. He was the biggest baby born in Collegeville, Scranton and Pittsburgh. He was so big, he had to be born in three cities.
Ostroski said of the experience, “That was pretty special for me. When I was younger and watched the show, I always envisioned it as something I wanted to do. It was like a dream.”
So was the 1991 season for Ostroski and the Golden Hurricane, coming as it did after a 3-8 disaster the previous year. As well as Ostroski had played in 1990--he graded over 80% in 11 of the 13 games--nobody outside his immediate Tulsa family noticed him.
While he already was a star at tackle, Ostroski thinks the switch to guard made him a better player.
“I can use my size and strength more than agility,” he said. “I have good agility, too, but I bench press 425 pounds, so strength is my biggest asset.
“The change forced me to learn a little more. I have to understand our overall offense better, because I have a few more responsibilities.”
The positive thing is that my responsibilities are better suited to my ability. I can use my size better, because everything there is strictly contact. Playing tackle involves more finesse.”
As far as the NFL draft is concerned, Ostroski tries not to let himself get too excited. He will attend the combine workouts in February in Indianapolis, along with McGuire and two other teammates, quarterback T.J. Rubley and linebacker Tracy Scroggins.
Obviously, being drafted in the first round is a possibility, but Ostroski said, “The feelings I’ve gotten so far are that I’ll go anywhere from round five on up. It depends on who drafts me.”
Ostroski is sure of one thing about the draft: He hopes to be taken by the Philadelphia Eagles.
“I’ve been an Eagles fan all my life,” he said. “I’d love to play with them. Their people have talked to me, and so have several other clubs.”
Rader took over as Tulsa’s coach in 1988, the year Ostroski enrolled, and lost no time in discovering that the big guy was a cut above the ordinary. Ostroski not only was the only freshman who wasn’t redshirted; he was a part-time starter.
“I have mixed emotions about that,” Ostroski said. “I wish I could play another year with the guys I came in with. They’re a good bunch. On the other hand, I wouldn’t trade the season we’ve had and what’s happening to me now.”
Ostroski has nothing but good things to say about Rader, a former Tulsa quarterback and an 11th-round draft choice of the Chargers in 1979. At 34, Rader is the youngest head coach in Division I-A football.
“Coach Rader is a great man,” Ostroski said. “He has done a lot for me. I wouldn’t trade him in for any other coach in the country.”
Because he played as a freshman, Ostroski will complete his eligibility a year shy of graduation, but he intends to get his degree eventually. He is majoring in health, physical education and recreation, and has won two academic achievement awards.
“I’ve got a 2.7 or 2.8 average,” he said. “Schoolwork is no problem for me. I study two or three hours a night. When I’m through playing football, I’d like to coach or be an athletic trainer.”
It might seem surprising that Ostroski chose Tulsa over Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Maryland, but he had reasons.
“I wanted a Division I school with small class sizes,” he said. “I wanted to go out of state, where I couldn’t drive home in two hours. I’m an only child, and after 18 years of constant attention at home, I felt I needed to get away.”
Unlike many players his size, Ostroski is not afflicted with a weight problem.
“I stay around 305 all the time,” he said.
Another huge lineman who watches his weight, Anthony Munoz of the Cincinnati Bengals, is Ostroski’s NFL idol.
“Munoz brings offensive line play to a higher level,” Ostroski said. “He totally dominates.”
As busy as he is with classes, studies and football, Ostroski makes sure he fits in time to watch his favorite TV show. Would you believe it’s “Mr. Ed?”
True, the talking horse has long since left the prime-time scene, but there are always reruns.
“I watch it about three times a day on Nickelodeon,” Ostroski said. “It just turns me on to see how they get a horse to talk.”
Ostroski also has been known to watch wrestling, and therein lies the source of his nickname--Andre.
“Wrestling was on one night and one of our defensive ends said I had many similarities to Andre the Giant,” Ostroski said. “The name stuck, and now 90% of Tulsa calls me Andre.”