‘I was a little too quiet’: Before he was a broadcasting star, Kirk Herbstreit grew into a leader in Centerville

Kirk Herbstreit has come a long way since his days as the quarterback for the Centerville Elks.

Before Herbstreit became a college football analyst for ESPN and color commentator for Thursday night NFL games on Prime Video — and as he is front-and-center in the sports world with the upcoming College Football Playtoff — he was multi-sport star athlete at Centerville High School.

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast

Though he is best known as being from Centerville, Herbstreit spent his earliest days in Trotwood.

In Herbstreit’s book, “Out of the Pocket: Football, Fatherhood and College GameDay Saturdays,” he recalled fond memories of growing up in Ohio.

“My block was like a lot of blocks in Trotwood ... We had a mix of nationalities, races, religions — not that it mattered to me,” he wrote. “I just wanted to play sports. All we did in the early 1970s was go to school, and then the minute we were out of school we played every game imaginable: four-square, freeze tag, baseball, Wiffle ball, football… whatever.”

He compared that time period for him to the movie “The Sandlot,” and the TV show “The Wonder Years.”

“It was glorious,” he wrote. “It was perfect. I wish every kid could experience it. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a second of it.”

Herbstreit’s parents, Jim and Judy, divorced when he was about 8 years old. That began a cycle of changing homes and differing living situations that included stops in Centerville, Franklin, Mason and Wyoming.

At Driscoll Elementary School in Centerville, Herbstreit realized being good at sports could help the new kid fit in.

“Sports became my way of coping with my parents’ divorce,” he wrote. “I was either playing sports, watching sports or listening to sports. It was my escape from the pain of our family’s disintegration. It temporarily blocked out the sadness, the sight of my mom freaking out as she tried to navigate the next chapter of her life and our lives.

“When I listened to a Cincinnati Reds game on the radio, when I could stare at the TV as the Buckeyes played, when I could compete against other kids at school — that’s when I felt like the world couldn’t hurt me.”

Herbstreit lived in multiple places and attended multiple schools — including the Miami Valley School in Dayton — as each of his parents remarried then divorced again.

A return to Centerville launched another chapter of his life — as a hotshot recruit.

Herbstreit had the opportunity to attend Moeller or Princeton, but choose to attend Centerville because he was attracted old-school coaching style of the Elks’ coach Bob Gregg.

Herbstreit became Centerville’s 6-foot-3, 187-pound starting quarterback in 1986 as a junior, saying at the time of his goals: “Individually, I wanted to start for the Centerville Elks - to do my job and be a leader.”

“Before, I was a little too quiet,” he said in a Dayton Daily News interview in 1986. “I wasn’t sure if had enough confidence in myself to lead the seniors.

“But coach Gregg and I had a talk about that. Now I’m more of a leader. I can take control in the huddle.”

As a junior in 1986, Herbstreit set a Centerville record with 317 passing yards in a game. That team went 10-1 with a playoff appearance.

As a senior in 1987, Herbstreit led Centerville to a 7-3 record and was named the Gatorade Ohio Player of the Year.

Herbstreit was a skilled all-around athlete at Centerville. After this 1986 junior football season, he went on to hit .505 and play third base on the baseball team, which ranks fifth in school history for a season.

Herbstreit paid tribute to his former coach, Bob Gregg, on ESPN’s College GameDay after Gregg died in 2021.

“You’re 15 years old,” Herbstreit said at the time. “You’re going through life. He got me to believe in myself. He taught me about things that you use for your entire life: your guiding principles; work ethic; determination; getting knocked down; getting back up. He impacted so many lives, not just obviously mine but thousands of kids who had a chance to play for him in Centerville.”

After high school, Herbstreit followed in his father’s path and attended Ohio State University, where he was a four-year quarterback from 1989 to 1993. He was a co-captain his senior year and was voted team MVP.