A gap that once was two inches and then expanded to almost three decades has been closed thanks to their sons — both of whom are Ohio State Buckeye football players.
After graduating from Fairborn Park Hills High School in the late 1970s, both Fred Domicone and Rob Fada — a pair of offensive linemen for the now defunct Vikings — furthered their football careers in impressive fashion.
Fred played for the Dayton Flyers team that won a national title in 1980. Rob went on to Pitt, where he blocked for Dan Marino, and then was drafted by the Chicago Bears, where he played for two seasons before spending a year with the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Those first couple of summers after high school we’d get together with one of our old coaches, put on some pads and work out,” Fred said. “But it got to a point where Rob was just too big for me to handle.
“He had a really long wingspan and I remember after one blocking drill when I just couldn’t keep my hands on him, he said, ‘Wait a minute.’ He put his arms on my shoulders and said to hit him in the chest. But I stretched out and I was still two inches away.”
In the years that followed the two men drifted further apart as they established themselves in the workforce and raised their families. But Sunday afternoon — nearly 30 years after those summer-time workouts — they were back together again in Ohio Stadium.
“It’s like karma all over again,” Rob said channeling a bit of Yogi Berra.
Fred called it “a real neat happenstance.” His son, Zach — a former prep star at Beavercreek High School — is a fifth-year senior defensive back for the Buckeyes.
“I was going through the media guide not too long ago and I saw Rob had a son Craig who was an incoming freshman,” Fred said. “I called Zach and he said, ‘Yeah, he’s my baby brother.’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
Ohio State football has a Big Brother program in which older players take the new guys under their wings and mentor them at the beginning of their college careers. They give them advice on everything from how to practice and conduct themselves around the football facility to how to tackle their academics and carry themselves in public.
This year new head coach Urban Meyer has added a popular ritual he began at Bowling Green in 2001 and then took with him to Utah and Florida.
Sort of a scarlet letter type deal, it’s really an inch-wide strip of black tape that equipment managers have affixed across the middle of each freshman player’s helmet. That strip remains there until the Little Brother proves to his Big Brother that he is a bona-fide Buckeye and then the tape is removed with a bit of ceremony.
“It all started because of hazing,” Meyer said. “Hazing used to be a problem. They’d shave your head, shave your eyebrows, make you drink. I don’t hear about that as much in college sports so that’s a good thing.
“It was silly stuff, dangerous stuff … However, I think our program should have a way that you can graduate into being a full-fledged member of (the team.) We started the program at Bowling Green. You start things and sometimes they take off and sometimes they don’t. This one exploded. Our coaches love it, our staff loves it and, most importantly, the players love it. It’s a rite of passage to become an Ohio State Buckeye.”
The players are paired randomly, which Zach said makes the partnership with Craig “crazy … but really cool.”
Rob felt the same way: “When I heard who Craig’s Big Brother was, I about flipped. It was like ‘Oh my God! I mean I don’t think the two kids even knew each other or knew about Fred and me being teammates.”
Fred and Rob played for Tuffy Thompson at Park Hills and they had a couple of good seasons. Fred graduated in 1978, Rob a year later, and in 1982, Park Hills combined with Baker to form Fairborn High School.
After playing alongside Jim McMahon, Walter Payton and the rest of the famed Bears for two seasons, Rob was cut after the third exhibition game of the Super Bowl season and picked up by Kansas City. By then he’d already been accepted into medical school and today he’s an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus.
Fred runs the Fairborn printing company started by his parents. His son Zach said he grew up dreaming of being a Buckeye, but now admits reality has been a bit different than his fantasy.
He was red-shirted his first season, was relegated to special teams the next two years and finally got into some of the secondary rotations last season, including playing the whole second half against Michigan.
Through it all though he has battled injuries, especially hamstring problems. A year ago that prompted Fred to finally connect with Rob by phone to question him about a California specialist he was taking his son to see.
Now Zach is on the mend from an ACL tear in his left knee that he suffered just before the Gator Bowl last January. His goal is to be on the field for the Sept. 1 opener against Miami. And when he does play, it will be for his third head coach in three years.
“I’m not gonna lie, there’s been a lot of change since I’ve been here,” Zach said. “Obviously it’s not what I expected when I signed my letter of intent five years ago. But after all the instability with the coaching change last summer and the negative publicity, everything is back to football now. And it’s been good. With Coach Meyer, the whole culture of the program has changed and I think it’s changed for the better.”
Along with some on-the-field highlights — including returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against Minnesota — Zach has been a three-time Academic All -Big Ten selection and graduated last June with a marketing degree.
Experiences like that are something a Little Brother can tap into — especially one like Craig, who started on the Bishop Watterson team that won the state in 2010, but is on the Buckeye roster as a preferred walk-on.
Eventually he’d like to be on scholarship, but the first step comes with the removal of that black strip on his helmet.
“I think the Big Brother deal is a great way to acclimate younger players into the program,” Fred said. “It really brings the kids together.”
And Sunday it finally brought two old teammates together, as well.
Accompanying their sons into the Horseshoe for Family Day, Fred and Rob were back together on a football field for the first time in almost 30 years. They took photos and shared memories and it was just as Rob said.
It was “karma all over again.”