Ohio values a lot of things as a football program: strength, honesty, integrity; however, it values family above all, in more ways than one.
Cheers erupted from Peden Stadium on Nov. 22 after Ohio defeated Bowling Green to win the Mid-American Conference East division, but it wasn’t just because of the win. Redshirt senior Bryce Ramer had just proposed to his now-fiance, Alyssa Murawski, on the 50-yard line.
Ramer got the idea to propose to Murawski at Peden Stadium after his mom suggested the location to him at a family tailgate. After all, it was where the two had met and began a friendship that blossomed into something more.
“We were back at our tailgate we have the week after we played Penn State, and she told me ‘you know, I think it’d be a really good idea because football brought Alyssa to you and I think it would be a good way to close out this chapter of your life.”
After asking Murawski’s family, Ramer planned the details with Ohio coach Tim Albin and Michael Stephens, Ohio’s senior associate athletics director for external operations. Albin and Stephens were there for Ramer every step of the way, from making sure the jumbotron was set up to having the team on the field for the special moment.
Murawski wasn’t aware that the proposal was going to happen that night. Her and Ramer had discussed the prospect of marriage before since they share a dog and live together, but the plan was to wait until after Ramer graduated. They had been through thick and thin and supported one another through injuries, new jobs and more; the wait wasn’t a concern.
"He tricked me and said that the coaching staff said that the parents, family and significant others were allowed on the field at the end of the game because it was the last game, so I was like 'cool,'" Murawski said. “So, I was down there on the field and they’re like ‘let’s go take a picture of the MAC East Champion.’ So, I step back and then all these people shove me, I’m like 'why are these people shoving me?', and then I’m in the circle.”
Murawski soon realized that the Bobcats weren’t taking a photo. Instead, she saw an emotional Ramer in the middle of a huddle holding a ring, kneeling. She later learned that Ramer had prepared a speech, but he couldn’t deliver it because he was caught up in the moment.
“It was a little overwhelming, but I appreciate it because I did not think it was going to happen at all. It was sweet," Murawski said.
The Sunday before the proposal, Albin asked Ramer to clue the team in on what was going to happen Tuesday night. Immediately, the team erupted in cheers and congratulations for their teammate. They were genuinely excited to see a member of their family take the next step in life.
Both Albin and Ramer said that it felt like the team had won the MAC Championship in the moment. Every reaction was genuine and the love the team held for each other radiated throughout the room.
The Bobcats had the exact same reaction to the actual proposal, too.
“I would say that with the proposal and the win and everything, I would say my teammates probably made it the best day of my life,” Ramer said.
It’s the goal of the Ohio coaching staff to not only churn out impressive athletes, but also people. Their program isn’t just about football, it's about preparing individuals for the larger game of life.
“You want them to be husbands, you want them to be fathers and (Bryce’s) going to make a great husband and a great father,” Albin said after the Bowling Green game.
The sacrifices of these Division I athletes is far beyond relinquishing free time. It’s time away from loved ones, physical injuries and extra hours spent in the classroom to catch up on classes they might have missed while on the road.
Ohio’s staff has to make sacrifices, too. They’re faced with a different set of challenges because they’ve reached the point that they’re trying to prepare the team for.
The staff spends long hours with their football family. They’re along for the ride each time the team is on the road, they sit in film sessions, conduct practice and much more. The coaches devote a large chunk of time to the team just like the players do.
However, that causes them to miss time with their families at home.
“My wife and what she does because of all the things we have to do and not being at home, that gives me the freedom to do some of the extra things that, you know, coaches have to do,” Albin said.
The sincerity in Albin’s tone rang clear as a bell as he continued. The emotion was unmistakable as he began to tear up part way through his comment.
“I tell you right now, I hug every wife I can because I know,” Albin said. “My kids are grown and out of the house. When they’re like this (gestures to show changes in height), it rips your heart out when you’ve got to do things. It’s a little easier for me now because my kids are older, but I mean (safeties coach) John Houser’s got four little ones and (defensive tackles coach) Tremayne Scott, those guys, they’re in their prime of mom and dad. The thankfulness is (to) my family and the wives that enable this coaching staff to build what you’ve seen tonight and what you’ve seen throughout the course of the season."
The Bobcats have gained fans over its historic season, but their biggest fans are at home. They’re the partners, children, close friends and more that allow the Bobcats to continue to pursue their goals. Their biggest fans are also each other.
“I’ve got a family at home, and I’ve got a family here,” Albin said.
In all of the sacrifice, Ohio has chosen to lean on one another. The rough days have helped shape the team into stronger individuals for their respective futures, and Ramer is just one example.
Even when the Bobcats are tired and beat up after a grueling practice, they make it out with a smile, because they made it through together. They’ll even hang out after spending hours together at football because they genuinely enjoy each other’s company.
"It’s crazy to see that (they) go to football for eight hours a day, yet (they) still want to come over and hang out, too,“ Murawski said. “It’s nice to see that they all support each other and they have significant others who do the same.”
The big moments such as championships, field dedications and proposals are built on the small moments. Those moments like wide receivers coach Dwayne Dixon’s post-practice games for his player group, singing the alma mater in front of the student section, or homecoming pep rallies make everything worth it.
Ohio’s coaching staff, its team and those close to them understand that they have a bond that is unbreakable. Nothing can break what they have built over the past season.
“I think that coach Albin really cares about us as people,” Ramer said. “No matter what, win or lose, he tells us he loves us, and we try to take that to heart and play for each other.”
The Bobcats love football in the rain, in the snow, in the sleet and in the heat, but most of all, they love each other.