EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a two-part series. Part I was published on Aug. 17.
ASHLAND — There will be a rarely-walked balancing act the next few years for Ashland High School quarterback Nathan Bernhard.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound sophomore already has dipped his toe in the tough-to-swim waters for any signal-caller playing at an elite college program.
In June alone, Bernhard worked out at 11 NCAA Division I college camps over 21 days, traveling 5,500 miles across eight states to do so.
The schools on that list included Ohio State, Penn State (offered him in February), Iowa State (offered in June), Michigan, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. Bernhard added another offer, from Louisville, earlier this week.
“Traveling to those places, it’s kind of cool, to see those colleges,” Bernhard said. “In that aspect it wasn’t that bad. But you do get worn down a little bit.”
While conference rivals like Mansfield Senior and Lexington have had a number of players move on to Division I college programs, it’s a path very few at Ashland have walked.
Arrows head coach Scott Valentine, a 1981 AHS graduate who will be leading the team for the 18th season this fall, noted former Ashland standouts Dave Crecelius (1981 grad, Ohio State), Cory Zwick (1996, Kent State) and Phil Hawk (1998, Miami of Ohio) as three players who moved on to Division I college careers.
Obviously, Jim Roseboro, who led the Ashland football team to 21 straight wins, blazed a path for all Arrows in the 1950s when he played for Woody Hayes at Ohio State. Before that, Hayden “Dub” Fouts, a 1927 graduate, played for the Buckeyes for a year, too.
Bill Seder Jr. starred for the Arrows before playing at Ohio University in the 1980s. More recently, 2022 AHS grad Kadin Schmitz signed with Navy. After spending a season at the Naval Academy’s prep school — he made 80 tackles and was a defensive captain — Schmitz transferred to Ohio University.
While Ashland isn’t exactly a hotbed for major college football recruits, Bernhard got a boost from the quarterbacks coach he began working with last summer, Hudson-based Brad Maendler.
Maendler groomed former Medina star Drew Allar on a career path to Penn State, where he likely will be the starting quarterback as a sophomore this fall. The owner of QB Excelerate, Maendler is working with a stable of other quarterbacks set to move on to the next level.
“The relationship with Brad was a big step in me getting the offer (from Penn State),” Bernhard said. “It was a big step to me even getting noticed, actually, because Brad has all kinds of connections. Me being from Ashland, not a place that’s known to have a ton of high-level (college football prospects), he was instrumental.”
If there is some hometown advice that could go a long way in helping Bernhard, it could come from more recent star quarterbacks Taylor Housewright (2008 graduate) and Marcus Fuller (2011).
Both were two-time, first-team All-Ohioans (the only other one at Ashland was legendary running back Roosevelt Robinson in the 1960s), and both led the Arrows to back-to-back regional championship games while also navigating their way toward college careers.
Housewright’s 2007 squad was the only Ashland team ever to reach the state semifinals and he passed for 6,582 yards and 67 touchdowns. He went on to star at Ashland University, where his 7,259 yards and 71 touchdowns both rank third in program history. Housewright was the conference player of the year in 2012 at AU and finished fifth in Division II Player of the Year voting.
He now is entering his third season as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Division I Montana State after previous coaching stops at Oregon, Mississippi State, Wyoming, Ashland, Wittenberg and Miami (Ohio).
Needless to say, he knows a bit about the recruiting trail.
“Recruiting is different now because of all the social media,” said Housewright, who was in contact with a variety of Division I programs and had scholarship offers to Ashland, Findlay and Youngstown State.
“Any kid now is easier to get ahold of because of social media and the kids need to do a good job of putting boundaries on coaches and when they can reach out.”
Housewright said he didn’t get into attending camps until later in his high school career, so his experience was different than what Bernhard is going through in that regard.
“It’s difficult at any level to play college football,” Housewright said. “He just needs to worry about what he’s doing tomorrow to help the Arrows and everything else will take care of itself.”
Fuller, meanwhile, still holds Arrow records for career passing yards (7,848) and touchdowns (76), and the 521 points the offense scored his senior season are nearly 100 more than any other in AHS history.
He went on to become a two-year starter at Brown University in the Ivy League, throwing for 5,154 yards and 28 touchdowns.
Fuller’s recruiting experience was more along the lines of what Bernhard is experiencing. He worked with quarterback coach Cliff Stoudt, a former quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, for three years in high school and had another Division I offer from Colgate.
Fuller also had preferred walk-on interest from a variety of Division I programs.
“I really enjoyed the process,” said Fuller, now a senior manager in analytics at FanDuel living in New York City. “It was always really cool to get out there and kind of stack myself up against kids from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana — wherever we were at.”
Fuller’s biggest offseason came the summer before his senior year, when he totaled a combined 14 camps and college visits and traveled 5,200 miles. Even during his experience, though, he was still sending out DVD highlights of his performances in the mail.
He said he tried to cast a wide net for possible college destinations while prioritizing academics and offenses that fit him best.
“It can be a difficult balance to adhere to your commitments back home while pursuing what is at this stage your biggest lifelong dream,” Fuller said. “I think that’s a challenge for any athlete, but particularly the quarterback position.
“The most important thing for me was to prove that whether I was on the road or back home, that no one on the team was working harder than me.”
One other aspect of the college search that wasn’t around during the careers of Housewright and Fuller was the NCAA’s name-image-likeness (NIL) policy. The NCAA seemingly has always been able to drive revenue by promoting its athletes, and for the past few years, the athletes have been able to get paid for the use of their NIL.
With that newer development, athletes might base a lot of their college decision on a potential NIL deal, but Bernhard said he’s far from worrying about that at this point.
“Obviously, if you go to Ohio State or somewhere like that, you’re going to have the most (NIL opportunities),” he said, “but you’re going to have them if you perform anywhere at the highest level of college football.”
A lot of the next couple of seasons for Bernhard will be spent building relationships with college coaches and recruiters. Schools can verbally offer as many players as they want, but nothing is official until Bernhard signs a national letter of intent in December of 2025 at the earliest.
After spending a few years as a part-time coach at Ashland University before leading the high school program at Madison last season, Valentine feels he gained a lot of knowledge he can share with any high school player looking toward the next level.
“I tell guys all the time that they’ve got to catch the attention of one of the (coaches where they’re interested in going),” Valentine said, “because I’ve been in rooms where coaches are talking about recruiting money and they’re talking about who they like the most, and it comes down to a tough decision for the staff of who’s the best guy and who you want to offer.”
Recruiting websites and video means athletes are far more easily able to open the door to communication across the country.
It makes the player pool Bernhard is competing against that much bigger and will force him to find ways to separate himself from the pack. Valentine said the sophomore’s size, arm strength, decision-making and accuracy are already helping that cause.
“Whatever fit that works for me within the power five (conferences) … that’s the ultimate dream,” Bernhard said. “I want to play football at the highest level, and wherever best fits me, it’s not really about location. I like to prioritize the culture and how my career could play out there.”