In honor of Father’s Day this weekend, and in continuation of our A Family Affair series, we’re recognizing a dynamic, multi-generational duo who graced Ohio State football in the 1970s and again in the 1990s: Ron and Shawn Springs.
There is a special bond when generations of families go to the same school. That bond gets even more dynamic when parents and children end up playing the same sport. Of course, when that happens, there inevitably come the expectations and questions from the outside: Will the son be as good as his father? Is the younger player only being hyped because of the parent’s impact? Are we missing out on meaningful, different skills because we’re constantly comparing?
One key to avoiding this unfair placement of expectations is recognizing that the two players are different people. Sure, they might (or might not) possess some of the same genetic gifts, but each will inevitably have different interests, skills and work ethics that make them into unique players. Sometimes it’s hard — we’ve already seen how teenage quarterback Arch Manning is being compared to his uncles and grandfather before even starting his junior season in high school.
However, it’s a lot easier to avoid those comparisons when players play different positions. Which is something that makes Ron and Shawn Springs’ individual and collective Ohio State careers that much cooler.
A running back, Ron Springs came to Ohio State as a transfer from Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he earned Junior College Player of the Year honors in 1975. In that same year, Ron welcomed his son, Shawn, into the world.
Playing under Woody Hayes, Ron got in 12 games in the 1976 season, rushing for 389 yards and two touchdowns while playing behind Jeff Logan (in terms of expectations, it had to be a tough era to be an Ohio State running back. Logan himself succeeded Archie Griffin).
Ron truly came into his own during his junior season in 1977, when he became a starter and rushed for 1,166 yards, leading the Big Ten, and seven touchdowns. Impressively, Ron also averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Ron was a captain at Ohio State his senior year and, despite being limited with a knee injury, still managed 585 yards and two touchdowns while playing in 10 games.
After college, Ron was selected in the fifth round of the 1979 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, where he played from 1979-84. While he largely backed up Tony Dorsett and supported him as a blocker, Ron also proved to be dynamic as a pass catcher, leading all NFL running backs in receptions in the 1983 season. Eventually, Ron went to Tampa Bay to play out the final two seasons of his NFL career.
Within a few years of Ron’s retirement from the NFL, Shawn was making a name for himself as an outstanding high school football player, playing both running back and cornerback, and track star in Maryland. Eventually recruited by John Cooper, Springs came to Columbus in 1994 and quickly rose to become one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.
In his first season with Ohio State, Shawn played in 13 games and recorded a single pick. He boosted his output his sophomore season, hauling in five interceptions, including a pick-six (he also had a kick return for a touchdown in 1995, which added to the chatter surrounding him heading into his final season in Columbus).
While his last season with Ohio State in 1996 did not look great statistically from first glance — he didn’t record a single interception — Shawn had already built such a reputation as a shut-down corner that opposing quarterbacks simply didn’t toss the ball in his direction.
Shawn earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 1995 and 1996, and was a consensus All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1996. He would go on to be taken with the third-overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 1997 NFL Draft.
Shawn had a hot start to his NFL career, recording seven picks (including two he returned for scores) in his second season and earning a Pro-Bowl bid. While his sophomore season was certainly his best statistically, he would prove to be a consistent player for the Seahawks, the Washington Redskins (now Washington Football Team) and the New England Patriots. In total, upon his retirement in 2009, he played in 169 NFL games and recorded 33 picks, 682 tackles and 8.5 sacks.
Shawn’s post-NFL career has been no less impressive. Drawing from the experience he’s had with NFL safety equipment, he is now the CEO of Windpact, a company working to improve impact protections for sport, military and automotive clients.
Tragically, Ron passed away in 2011 at the age of 54 after a long series of health problems. When Ron needed a kidney transplant in 2004, Shawn offered his own kidney to his father. Ron refused, since it would have ended Shawn’s NFL career. Ron eventually received a transplant from a former Cowboys teammate, Everson Walls, in 2006.
While Ron and Shawn’s performances on the field at Ohio State were impressive (enough so for both of them to go on to solid NFL careers), their legacy continues to be felt off the field. The Ron Springs Gift for Life Foundation works to raise awareness for kidney and organ donation, while Shawn’s company is actively working to reduce head trauma in applications that expand beyond football. It’s an admirable goal, and one which certainly draws on Shawn’s experience as both an NFL player and the son of an NFL player.