By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Offensive linemen, by trade, are the ultimate team players. They sacrifice their bodies to push large men around a field in order for a teammate to score a touchdown.
More than 25 years after he played his final down as a Grand Valley Mustang and as he is to be inducted into the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame Monday night at the Touchdown Club’s annual awards dinner, Lowell Moodt is still the ultimate team player.
“I had two 1,000-yard rushers behind me,” Moodt said.
“What’s hard for me is football is a team sport. It wasn’t about what I did or what he did. It would be nice if the whole team could go in, not just me. I was one of 11 and I’ve always looked at it that way.”
Even on a day he will celebrate his own success as a player, Moodt will be thinking of others.
“I’d like to congratulate the kids who were all-county selections,” he said. “It was a very big honor for me when I played. It’s something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives and I’d like to congratulate them.
“To me, the Touchdown Club dinner is about the kids. That’s a big night for them. I’m on the sidelines. This is their night. Twenty-five years ago is a long time (from my days in the spotlight).”
Moodt began playing football while he was in the third grade and immediately fell in love with the sport.
“I couldn’t wait for the next season to come around,” he said. “We only had flag football in Orwell, but it still taught me the fundamentals of football. Growing up, Grand Valley always had great teams. We would always go to the games and they won.”
The son of Charlotte and George Moodt still remembers the moment when he knew he’d become a Mustang.
“I was in junior high,” he said. “My brother, Carl, was a freshman or sophomore. We were at a game at Perry. It was snowy and cold. (Grand Valley) came out of the locker room at halftime and they were chanting, ‘GRC! GRC!’ I can remember them coming out of that locker room and I knew I wanted to be a part of that. That’s what Ron Chutas, Jim Henson and Tom Henson instilled (in the young players in Orwell). We wanted to be part of that.
“That night at Perry, the game was close but we ended up winning and winning the (Grand River Conference). I played for Tony Hassett, Mick Zigmund and Kurt Johnson in junior high. The coaches were huge for us from top to bottom.”
Though he loved being on the offensive nad defensive lines, Moodt had designs of being a ball carrier early in his career.
“I didn’t want to be (a lineman) at first,” he said. “In junior high, I was with the running backs about a half a practice. Jim Henson came down the field and said to put me on the line. I didn’t have the speed to be anywhere else.”
Something Moodt witnessed while at a Sunday dinner at his grandmother’s house made him fall in love with the idea of toiling in the trenches.
“My grandma lived behind the football field at the old school,” he said. “Jim Dyke was a great lineman from Grand Valley who went on to play at Ohio State. We were eating dinner one Sunday night and I saw Jim pulling his dad’s car up and down the street with a harness. I was amazed to see a high school kid pulling his dad’s car up and down the road.
“I wanted to be (an offensive lineman) when I saw that. I thought it was pretty cool. It says a lot about the work ethic of those kids, but that’s what we were. We were a bunch of farm boys who baled hay in the summer and played football in the fall. It pumped me up whe I saw that, actually.”
Moodt concedes that carrying the ball would have been fun, too. But he also understood others could do it better.
“I think every kid wants to touch the ball,” he said. “But once I realized where I was going to be at, I was fine. I played defensive end, too. I loved that. We always had a good defense.
“To be honest, the team had two arguably two of the best running backs around in Brian Snowberger and Jeff Takacs. They were unbelievable. It was a joy to be part of that and opening holes for them.”
Moodt and his teammates on the line took pride in making coach Jim Henson’s strategy a reality.
“Every team that came to play us knew we were going to run the football,” Moodt said. “It was fun, too. It was almost like we said, ‘Hey! Come and try to stop us!’ Usually, they didn’t.”
Moodt and his teammates made it their mission to get
Snowberger, Takacs and quarterback Jimmy Henson the room they needed to operate and operate well.
“We always strived to get our running backs over 1,000 yards,” Moodt said. “That was huge to us. You know the name Mick Shoaf. He was a year ahead of me and he ended up at Ohio State. We obviously had a good line.”
Being a lineman at Grand Valley was almost like being part of a fraternity.
“We knew the names of the guys before us,” Moodt said.
“There was Jim Dyke, Jim Nye and Bill Bye. It was a family of linemen. Joe Kocab and Ray Busser were good friends of mine and we were all on the line. Bill Poyer is another one.”
Moodt was a junior when the Mustangs made their first appearance in the state playoffs.
“I still remember the first time we were ever in the playoffs,” he said. “We played at Solon High School. We played O.J. McDuffie, not Hawken (the school McDuffie played for). He went on to play for Penn State then the Rams and Dolphins.
“We were escorted out of town by the police and there were signs everywhere.”
McDuffie and his teammates ended the Mustangs’ season that night.
“Unfortunately, we met O.J. McDuffie,” Moodt said. “It was 8-0 at the half and we were winning. He returned a punt and they brought him in as a receiver and he caught a long pass. We couldn’t stop him.”
Moodt lettered three times for the Mustangs, was named GRC Offensive Player of the Year in 1987 and made the all-conference team twice, was named Star Beacon All-Ashtabula County Offensive Lineman of the Year in ’87 and was All-Ashtabula County twice, and was All-Ohio in ’87.
“I don’t know how (being named GRC Offensive Player of the Year) happened (as an offensive lineman),” Moodt said. “I had two 1,000-yard rushers behind me. I was as shocked as anybody else. I still wonder about that.”
Moodt loved playing for the coaches at Grand Valley.
“Jim Henson was successful right away (when he got to Grand Valley),” Moodt said. “We wanted to please him. They weren’t always the nicest guys, but we knew when we were wrong. We would’ve run through a wall for those guys. Tom would yell at us and Ron would come by and pat us on the back. I don’t know if that was by design, but they were a perfect mix. I’m still friends with those guys today.
“Ron was in my wedding. I still see Tom every day at school. We go see Jim at Edinboro. We respected them and I think that’s huge. I’m not going to say it was always fun times, but we knew when we did wrong and we knew when we did right. I think that was important.
“Tom will tell you to this day that he knew exactly when to yell at me and when not to. He knew when I was pissed and he’d yell at me and I’d yell back and go out and play. You can’t always do that with every kid, but, obviously, he knew the psychology involved.”
Moodt joins teammates Jimmy Henson and Shoaf in the Hall of Fame. He believes that Snowberger and Takacs shouldn’t be too far behind.
“They should have gone in before me,” Moodt said. “They were two great running backs.
“With two 1,000-yard backs, we had something going on up front and without us, they’re not going to gain those yards. But at the same time, they had to do some things. They had to see the holes and make the cuts.”
Being a bit undersized, Moodt was overlooked by most colleges, but he did end up playing with fellow inductee and Pymatuning Valley graduate Gordie Hitchcock while at Edinboro.
“I was 6-foot-1 and 245 or 250 pounds. I know some (Mid-American Conference) schools called Jim, but when they heard what my size was, they weren’t interested. Even then they wanted guys who were 6-4 or 6-5 and closer to 300 pounds.
“One of my good friends, Mick Shoaf went to Ohio State, obviously that wasn’t going to happen for me. One of my goals was to play college football, but that didn’t really work out the way I had planned. Gordie and I both went to Edinboro. He was the smallest guy on the line at 6-3. I didn’t get on the field. It wasn’t working out, so I decided to focus on my education.”
After two years on the Fighting Scots’ roster, Moodt concentrated on getting his degree in elementary education.
“I love kids and knew I wanted to coach,” he said. “I came back to Grand Valley after college and got a job right away. I actually coached with Jim, Tom and Ron and I was the defensive coordinator for A.J. Calderone after Jim left. I coached until I got the principal’s job at the elementary.
“I have been involved in all of the Grand Valley playoff games as either a player or a coach. Hopefully, there will be more.”
Moodt is in his 11th year as the principal at Grand Valley Middle School after having taught seventh-grade language arts and seventh-grade life science.
Moodt served a tenure on the coaching staff at GV under his former coaches.
“I was the Saturday morning doughnut boy,” Moodt kidded. “I got to coach the line with Tom. We would run drills together then break up and I would take the younger guys. They were my education into the football world. It was great to see all the different personalities as a player then as a colleague.”
Moodt still has a role in the program. He is the man who tapes the games for the current coaching staff.
In 2012, first-year coach John Glavickas made a point of inviting former GV players back to address the team before games. Snowberger and Takacs spoke before the Ledgemont game. Moodt got his chance in the season’s opening week against Conneaut.
“Johnny is a good friend of mine,” Moodt said. “Actually, I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know what I was going to say. I tried to rely on my experiences. I thought about all the seniors Grand Valley had lost from the year before and what they were going to do.
“I told (the team) I was in their shoes. We were in the playoffs my junior year. When we came back the next year, everyone was asking what we were going to do. I relayed that story to them. I told them they could make a name for themselves, they just had to go play. You didn’t hear many of their names until they played this year. I told them tradition goes on and there can be success.”
Moodt is married to Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame member Tammy (Busser) Moodt. They have two children, Matthew, who was a freshman on this season’s team, and Megan, who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.
It’s tough for Moodt to remain “dad” and not try and coach his children. But he does his best.
“Sometimes, I want to go out there and tell (Matthew) what he’s doing wrong,” Moodt confessed. “Sometimes, I think it’s harder for him than it is for me. He has to ride home with me. I tell them they’ll get out of it what they put into it.
“They’ll be their own people whether they’re great athletes or not. They’re great kids and that’s more important to me than than being a great athlete.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula.