Staying home: Football and family create perfect storm

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For current Bearcats from Cincinnati who chose to stay home for college, the combination of football and family created one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives.

CINCINNATI - By now, senior center Evan Davis knows who to approach. That's because for the past four years he's been attempting to acquire more tickets than the four he's allotted for UC home games.

He usually starts with punter Pat O'Donnell, whose from Florida and rarely uses his. The hunt branches out to other out-of-state teammates to scrounge up enough to fill requests of friends and family who typically comprise a 15-20 person pocket of supporters of the Colerain High product.

"I got my little cousins, my uncles, my aunts, my mom, my dad, friends," he said. "The Davis family rolls deep."

Prior to the first snap of every home game, senior LB JK Schaffer always takes a look to the far corner of the stands near the videoboard. It's where about 20 of his family members bought season tickets and station the Schaffer section of Nippert Stadium for every Saturday home game the past four seasons.

For players like Schaffer, Davis and the 21 others from the city they now wear across their chest on gameday, picking a school amounted to more than rankings and recruitment, playing time and prestige.

It came down to creating a college football experience molded since birth. It came down to family.

"If I would have went anywhere else I don't know how special my career would have been," LaSalle grad Schaffer said. "Now, just going out and playing in front of my family and close friends every game is awesome. I love wearing Cincinnati around. I do every single day. There won't be a day I won't be proud of that."

Such isn't to say, those who arrived at UC from out of state, like Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin (Michigan) or Bengals wide receiver Armon Binns (California) don't sport the same Cincinnati gear as prominently today as they did while in Clifton. One glance at their Twitter feed or apparel worn around their NFL locker room's prove their allegiance to Cincinnati is strong.

That case holds for the majority of players and alumni.

But, for players who were raised in the sprawling shadows of the Carew Tower, playing for Cincinnati resonates deeper. The phrase Represent the C plasters across walls, billboards and playbooks. It stands for a program's motto and mission. Winton Woods graduate Chris Williams views it as his identity.

"I was raised in Cincinnati, when you got a lot of people that know your name," he said. "Cincinnati was on you before you even committed to the school. You were a product of Cincinnati, so, wherever I went -- if I would have went to West Virginia I would have been a product of Cincinnati, just in a West Virginia environment. When you come to Cincinnati, it really just locks you in. I'll always be a Cincinnati Bearcat, I'll always be a Cincinnati guy, but that Represent the C, it's special when you are from Cincinnati."

Williams could have easily moved away. As a four-star recruit coming off a state championship, he owned a bevy of choices: Michigan, Michigan State, WVU, you name it.

With so many tradition-rich programs pitching giant fan bases, why choose UC?

"Why not?" he said. "You playing in a BCS program, they winning nine and ten games a year, getting rings for Big East championships, then the support of being home. I talked to guys when I was in high school that played here that were from out of state -- Florida, Michigan -- they talk about they got homesick all the time. I am right here at home, 15 minutes away from campus. How good would it be to get a nice cooked meal or see your mom when you feel like it and just see family? Then playing in front of all your friends and family; that is exciting."

Schaffer, Davis, Reuben Haley (Mt. Healthy) and Tom DeTemple (Moeller) will be the four Cincinnati recruits playing in their final game Saturday at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Davis says he engages in conversation with Schaffer all the time about the rewarding nature of playing at home. Both held the Bearcats as the undeniable No. 1 on their college lists. Davis was the first to commit in the 2008 class. Once UC offered Schaffer, there was no list.

Neither can fathom the fact Saturday will be their last game playing for their city and school, but both can also agree it rests among the best choices they've made.

"People say I want to get away from home because I want to get away from high school and all that," Davis said. "I am far. It's like I went away from school. I hang out with guys from different states all the time, I don't hang out with anybody from school, but then when I want to see my family I can. It's awesome."

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