Otis football family dynasty continues for OSU
Published: Friday, May 11, 2001
Updated: Saturday, June 16, 2012 00:06
If Ohio State coaching legend Woody Hayes were alive today, he would most likely be a very happy man. The current Buckeye roster features an athlete who arguably has more ties to the Ohio State football family than any player who has ever donned the scarlet and gray.
During the OSU spring game, walk-on quarterback James John Otis II watched anxiously from the sideline to hear his name called for action. He played sparingly, and in his singular highlight he tossed a tight spiral to starting quarterback Steve Bellisari, who lined up at receiver for one play, and a six-yard gain.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 210 pound freshman is not your ordinary walk-on, however, he is merely the newest addition to an OSU legacy.
The Otis family ties run deep at OSU. Otis’ father is Buckeye legend Jim Otis — formally James Lloyd Otis — who was the leading rusher for the 1968 national championship squad.
Otis’ grandfather is Dr. James John Otis, who was fraternity brother and best friend to former Buckeye coach Woody Hayes. The freshman Otis, who goes by Jim, shares his grandpa’s name and has many stories about coach Hayes’ life-long friendship with his family.
“Woody Hayes was the second person to hold me after I was born. In fact, he held me before my mother even did,” Otis said. “Woody came to Missouri and visited our family when I was little. I vividly remember his black thick framed glasses and I told my dad that it was grandpa.”
Grandpa Otis met Woody in 1932 while attending Denison University in nearby Granville, Ohio. They joined Sigma Chi Fraternity and quickly became friends. The two roomed together in the fraternity house until graduation.
“My grandfather says that Woody was exceptional at about anything he put his mind to and had a knack of making accurate predictions,” Otis said. “Coach Hayes gave me a football when I was born that said, ‘Good luck, see you in 2000 at OSU’.
“Woody also told my grandfather he was amazed with my dad’s athletic ability as a little boy and told him that my father would play fullback for him some day as a Buckeye. Both statements came true,” he said.
James John Otis Sr. has much to say about his grandson’s accomplishments thus far at OSU.
“It is amazing to see your grandchild play for the Buckeyes. Woody would be proud and I know that Jimmy’s dad is proud,” Otis Sr. said.
“Jim is a preferred walk-on, which means that he was asked by the coaches to attend OSU and eventually work for the right to an athletic scholarship.” he said.
Though a native of St. Louis, Otis considers OSU a home away from home because he was in Columbus so many times as a child watching games in the horseshoe.
Otis’ father grew up in Celina, Ohio where his grandparents and cousins still reside.
“That makes it nice. When I want a quality meal and can’t make it back home, I go to Celina and stay with family,” Otis said.
His mother Jan Otis said, “It is wonderful that his grandparents are only an hour and a half away.”
Otis attended Christian Brothers College High School, an all-boys Catholic high school in St. Louis. During Otis’ senior year, he made 15 touchdown passes and threw for 1,400 yards. He was a scholar-athlete and second team all-conference as a senior.
“Going to such a competitive and demanding high school made college an easier transition for me,” Otis said.
His brother, Jeff Otis, played backup quarterback during Jim’s senior year. The younger Otis is now a senior and will play quarterback for Columbia University next year.
“It was great to have my brother Jeff back me up at quarterback in high school. We (team) were so good that most of the time I would play the first half and my brother would play the rest.”
Jan Otis added, “Jim has always been committed and steadfast to what he has ever done. He is very considerate and pays attention to other people's feelings.”
Although Otis has been at OSU for less than a year, he has already accumulated numerous nicknames.
“My teammates call me many names, such as Oats, Odie, Jimbo, Big O, Jotis and the team comedian, Bam Childress, likes to call me Jodecee,” Otis said.
Otis’ father was a tremendous fullback while attending OSU. He was an All-American, voted runner-up to O.J. Simpson for the 1969 Heisman Memorial Trophy and is a member of the OSU athletic hall of fame. During his NFL career, he played for the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Cardinals.
Even though his father has accomplished much, the young Otis said he feels no pressure to reach the same accolades his father attained in football.
“Being the son of a football star is no big deal, because my dad’s attitude is great. It has always been my decision to play football,” Otis said. “My decision to attend OSU had no influence on the fact that my dad played here.”
Nicole Hamm, an OSU sophomore and cousin to Otis, said while growing up she remembers Jim as a skinny kid who was a very picky eater.
“Jim always ate hot dogs for every meal and when he came to Ohio to visit. My mom and I would always make sure that we had plenty of hot dogs around so that Jim would eat,” Hamm said.
“I remember him being very athletic growing up and Uncle Jim would always practice with Jeff and Jimmy in the yard,” she said.
Otis is a pledge of the Sigma Chi Fraternity; member P.J. Hamm said he is proud of his cousin’s accomplishments.
“The fraternity has allowed Jim to handle many situations such as time-management and the ability to make connections in life,” P.J. Hamm said. “His dad and our grandfather were both Sigma Chi’s, so it has been an Otis family tradition to join this fraternity.”
Otis knows he has much to learn but understands he can only focus on the task at hand. With focus, he says positive things will materialize.
“So far in college I have learned that if you work hard, you can achieve what you want and succeed in all that you do,” Otis said.
“I have many goals. I want to play on the special teams unit next year and get a varsity letter, graduate in four years from the Fisher College of Business and make the dean’s list next quarter and beyond,” he said.