WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Cornelius Green was a star athlete at Dunbar High School in the early 70’s. He was the quarterback of the football team and also played basketball and baseball, becoming a three year letterman in all sports.
He quickly began to receive offers, catching attention from Ohio State University.
“Playing at Dunbar, we were playing in front of 800 maybe, you know, which were big crowds to me and then overnight, you’re looking at 100,000 people at Ohio State, I mean it was mind boggling, but mentally, I thought I was ready, I thought I was prepared and when I went to Ohio State, I had to go to Ohio State in mind that I would start, ” said Green.
He received scholarships from 80 schools, but committed to OSU. The school was impressed by his academics, “The other thing that sold me when I when to Ohio State, they had me spend three hours at the business college. So they were really interested in me for my academics, way more than my sports, so when I came home, I told my mom ‘Mom, I don’t know if they want me or not, all they were talking about was school all of the time, you know, they didn’t even show me the stadium until later on in my visit.’ That just sold my mom,” expressed Green.
Green would be the first African American to start as quarterback for the Buckeyes, but along with breaking barriers, he started receiving hate letters and phone calls from people who were telling him to go home, and much worse.
“Once I got to Ohio State, that’s when it really hit because now, I’m the first African-American quarterback there and then the letters start coming in,” stated Green.
Green said he was receiving 50 hate letter a week.
“People knew my number so then the death threats start coming. You know, you’re 18 years old and all you want to do is go to school and you never think something like that would happen,” said Green.
At that point, Green told head coach, Woody Hayes, what was happening.
“I just decided to let coach know what I was going through and he said ‘Hey, it’s going to be tough for you but you’re just going to have to hang in there’,” Green said.
While facing racism from the community he was playing for, he led the nationally ranked football program to three Big Ten titles. He said it is because of the support and encouragement from his coach that kept him going.
“The big thing that Woody Hayes taught me was to pay it forward, you know, and so that’s what I do now. Coming back here, mentoring kids, giving back,” said Green.
Green has since returned to DC, coaching basketball at St. Albans School, paying it forward by helping motivate young athletes.
“I remember when I was 18 years old, Woody Hayes used to make us get in the van and go to the Children’s Hospital to spend time with the kids and that was a huge impact on me. Now, in my senior part of my life, this is what I’m doing, and I think this is my calling, Abigail. To give back, teach the kids how to learn life the right way, the three D’s: desire, determination and dedication,” expressed Green.
Green actually attended Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at nine years old. He says MLK’s word of encouragement helped him become inspired to break records, pushing forward when people told him to go home. He uses MLK’s words today to help motivate his players.
All video courtesy of Ohio State University.