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Saturday night's nationally-televised Ohio State game at Memorial Stadium is literally history in the making. It's Nebraska's first-ever Big Ten Conference home game, and you can bet the farm that Cardinal Mooney High School graduates from Youngstown, Ohio, will have more than a passing interest in the Cornhuskers' performance. Nebraska, after all, personifies the same discipline, values, work ethic and team-first commitment of a 56-year-old Catholic high school that embraces a "family atmosphere" and nurtures an environment designed to help students grow intellectually, spiritually and personally.
Nebraska's head coach, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and a graduate assistant now in charge of tight ends are all graduates of Cardinal Mooney. Bo Pelini, Carl Pelini, Tim Beck and Vince Marrow value those roots from a high school that has produced a world lightweight boxing champion (Ray Mancini), three Division I head football coaches (Bo Pelini, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Arizona's Mike Stoops) and two Division I defensive coordinators (Carl Pelini and Florida State's Mark Stoops). We could mention two owners of the San Francisco 49ers, a former Congressman, major league baseball players, NFL football players and a professional soccer player, but you get the idea this is a special place.
"Words can't describe Cardinal Mooney, but I'll try," Carl said. "I was the fourth oldest of five brothers. To watch our brothers play and win state championships there in sold-out stadiums on Friday nights was everything. I still remember when I was a freshman and before our first practice, guys would get out of their cars and kiss the practice field. It was just a dream to wear that uniform, and we took a lot of pride in that school. We took a lot of pride in the relationships throughout the team. We really were like a family."
Listen to four Nebraska coaches describe their Cardinal Mooney roots and how they're building the same type of family atmosphere in Lincoln:
Bo Pelini, 43, Head Coach, Fourth Year
"My fondest memories growing up were the camaraderie and the great support we had. My parents taught us the right way to do things. There was a lot of pride in where we went to school, who we went to school with, who taught us and who coached us. The same values and morals we learned growing up were waiting for us at Cardinal Mooney. Everyone who went there - or at least the vast majority - is proud of that high school. We were all about hard work, commitment and team. We were never given anything. We had to earn everything. That's the way it was then and what I still believe in now.
"It is ironic to have both coordinators and a graduate assistant that I played with and grew up with, but they're all good coaches. They had similar experiences growing up and believe in the same culture. We're all proud to be from Mooney and proud to coach in the Big Ten. I played at Ohio State and had a great experience there. It's part of who I am and how I've moved forward. The Big Ten holds itself to a higher standard and does everything possible to live up to that standard. It's not just about the winning and the losing. It's about doing things with class and with respect. Academics is always foremost in mind. That's why Nebraska is such a great fit because the conference has the same values that this university and people in this state hold dear."
Tim Beck, 45, Offensive Coordinator, First Year
"I'm excited about coaching in the Big Ten because I grew up following the legendary coaches - Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno. It's just unbelievable the people that have come out of the Big Ten, and it's unbelievable having the opportunity to play in this league for the first time in Nebraska history. Being in a new offense and a new conference with new venues is exciting for our coaches, players and fans. And no one needs to remind me that four of the top six programs in college football history are in this league.
"I've known Bo for a long time. He has great confidence in himself, his staff, his players and the direction we're going. He's a great guy to be around as a person. You learn a lot from him about how to conduct yourself, even off the field. He shows great leadership. He builds a foundation and then lays down great expectations within that foundation. You want to run through a wall in terms of perfection for him. You want to do it mostly because of the person he is. At Cardinal Mooney, we learned what we still believe today - that you win with people, so you have to know what's important to them and what makes them tick. My philosophy is very similar to Bo's - You win games with defense and special teams and an efficient offense that doesn't hurt itself or turn the ball over."
Carl Pelini, 46, Defensive Coordinator, Fourth Year
"I started my coaching career as the outside linebacker coach for Ron Stoops Sr. (Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops' late father, who was the defensive coordinator at Cardinal Mooney). It's funny how that whole Cardinal Mooney network works. I told Bob once that someday I wouldn't mind coaching in college football myself, and when a graduate assistant's job came up at Kansas State several months later (after Bob had become an assistant under Bill Snyder), he tracked me down on vacation because the opportunity required a quick decision. Everything happened so fast, I ended up living with the Stoops when I got to Manhattan.
"Our families were, are and always will be close. We all grew up in Youngstown. We shareroots and values and so many of them trace back to Cardinal Mooney. We've experienced a lot of memories, heartaches and triumphs together. We may compete against each other like crazy, but we're still tight. When we lost that last Big 12 Championship (23-20 last December), on the bus ride to the airport, I sent Bob a text to congratulate him and his team. I will never forget how he communicated right back to me and said he was glad that we're no longer in the same conference, so we could get together more, share ideas and help each other out. We could tell each other something we already know, but with a different slant ... and make each other better. That's what Cardinal Mooney taught us."
Vince Marrow, 42, Graduate Assistant, Tight Ends, First Year
"Bob Stoops was my oldest brother's high school coach, so Mark Stoops and I were football team managers when we were about eight years old. I took a liking to Cardinal Mooney, but Bo was the one who actually persuaded me to go there. That's when I knew how good a recruiter Bo was. He was a year older, but we were like best friends since he was a freshman in high school. I lived in the inner city, and we would take turns staying at each other's houses. My mom loved Bo. He scored his first 1,000 points in basketball before his junior year and finished as Mooney's all-time leading scorer. He always told me I was going to beat his record, and I did a year after he left for Ohio State.
"I was recruited by Ohio State and Nebraska and a bunch of other top-20 schools as a tight end. I had two brothers who played football at Wisconsin, and one was a two-year captain there. I wanted to do something different, so I ended up playing at Toledo for Nick Saban and then Gary Pinkel. The Pelini family, the Stoops family and my family have stayed close over the years. There were like 27 siblings in those three families. We're transcendent and close-knit, just like we are now."
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Voices from Husker Nation
Great article. As a close and personal friend of all the families mentioned, as well as being a teammate with three of them, I can't tell you what an incredible feeling it is to read about our alma mater and the profound effect in which our school has had on practically every student who has ever attended. There's an interesting phenomenon that takes place while attending Cardinal Mooney. It's simply referred to as: "The Mooney Mystique"! The reality is unless you attended Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School, you'll never really understand the common bond that unites and produces such outstanding people! Thanks for writing such a kind article. Cheers. Michael T. Rossi, Boardman, Ohio
When I read this story on the Cardinal Mooney connection, I understand why we're getting top-notch recruits from the state of Ohio now, and I can only imagine how that pipeline will increase once we dig deeper into that state and more become aware of who we are. Tlhis article helps everyone understand why Ohio was one of Bob Devaney's favorite recruiting grounds for top-notch talent. Steve Williams, Cleveland, Ohio
NIce article on Cardinal Mooney. Let's hope the Ohio natives put Nebraska in the win column for the first time ever against Ohio State in the first game the Buckeyes play in our home state. Tom Murphy, Omaha, Nebraska
I grew up in Warren, Ohio, about 10-15 minutes from Youngstown Cardinal Mooney High School. I graduated from Warren Western Reserve High School in 1979. High School football in that area is or was huge in the '70s and '80s and still is today. Warren Western Reserve Raiders also had a huge run for football. I think they won the state title three times in the '70s. It produced the Browner Brothers. Ross and Jimmy went on to Notre Dame. Ross became an All-American and went on to a successful campaign with the Cincinnati Bengals. Joey was a six-time all-pro. The Browner brothers are on record for most brothers from one family to play in the NFL - five of them. Ross's son plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers on the offensive line as a starter with two or three Super Bowl rings. Our cross-town rival was Warren G. Harding High School. It produced Paul Warfield and other great players. Youngstown schools were the up-and-coming powers as I was graduating, and I can remember playing Cardinal Mooney when they had a tailback named Ted Bell. He was awesome. I can imagine saying that to Bo. He would look at me and probably wonder who I am. I believe our high school coach went on to coach Northern Illinois and retired a few years ago. I just wanted to share more about that area of football and all the talented kids that have become major players and coaches from the Youngstown-Warren area. I wouldn't mind meeting Mark "Bo" Pelini or Carl Pelini someday and discussing some old times growing up in the area. Thank you. Mark Bianco, Lincoln, Nebraska
Loved reading your N-Sider about Nebraska's coaches from Cardinal Mooney. Very well done, as always. Also enjoyed the link to the Bo/Youngstown story from the Columbus, Ohio, newspaper. Couldn't help but get pulled in by that lead: "About the only gray in Bo Pelini's childhood world was the winter sky choked by the smoke from Mahoning Valley steel mills." As I read that, I noticed something in bold up higher on the page: Days since Michigan's last victory over Ohio State in football: 2,875. Wow! I had no idea. Looks like this Buckeye team has important ground to make up. It will not be easy tomorrow night. I hope the fans are ready to do their part to help the Huskers bounce back from Wisconsin. It's going to take a monumental effort from everyone on the field and in the stands. Go Big Red! Let's put an exclamation point in the history book! Sharon Smith, Omaha, Nebraska
Nice article on the boys from Youngstown, Ohio. One thing I noticed is that Tim Beck said he would run through a wall for Bo. He didn't say he would pass through a wall. Run Bo Run! We won national championships by only throwing the ball 8 to 10 times a game. Go Big Red! Tom Hogan, Broadview, Montana
The opportunity is there to turn this season around. Like Ron Brown pointed out in the Big Red Breakfast yesterday in Omaha, we lost an early game to Texas once and then ran the table the rest of the year, beating Texas in a rematch conference championship game and then winning the Fiesta Bowl. This team has that same opportunity, so let's all get behind the Youngstown-led Huskers and take the Big Ten in our first year. Who knows? Maybe losing to Wisconsin early may end up being to our strategic advantage. Ron Meyers, Omaha, Nebraska