All of a sudden those granite-like features of the old, hard-nosed football man — a guy who was best pals with and played alongside Bo Schembechler and played for Woody Hayes at Miami, and later coached for Woody at Ohio State and Red Blaik at Army and with Bo at a couple of stops, too — began to soften.
His upper lip began to quiver, his eyes started to tear and, try as he might, he couldn’t get his words through the welling emotion,.
“It’s aaaah….” he struggled. “It’s an absolute thrill, especially…..”
As his voice began to melt again, he managed to add in half-whisper: “For a poor boy once…aaah…”
That’s when Bill Gunlock quietly dissolved into tears.
And that is when you realized to fully appreciate Saturday’s story of riches, you first had to know the rags part.
Miami University on Saturday held the groundbreaking for the Gunlock Family Athletic Performance Center, a $20 million facility that will be built just beyond the north end zone at Yager Stadium.
The center will include football locker rooms, a weight room, coaches offices, players’ lounge, rehab center for all student athletes, hydrotherapy area, and rooms for meetings, equipment and recruiting.
Bill’s son and daughter in law — Randy and Vicki Gunlock — donated $6 million to launch the project.
Randy was a three-year letterman and captain on Miami teams that won three straight Mid-American Conference titles, were nationally ranked and defeated Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in three straight Tangerine Bowls.
Since then he’s become one of the preeminent business successes in the Miami Valley. His real estate development company has had over 11 million square feet of retail space around the Midwest, sold off one major portfolio for $75 million last year and has developed the ever-burgeoning Austin Landing.
Although he shuns the spotlight, Randy Gunlock agreed to put the family name on the Miami facility, in part because it would also be a reflection on his dad, who has long been involved at the university and is in the Hall of Fame.
After Saturday morning’s ceremony, Miami coach Chuck Martin and his football team, who attended the groundbreaking, held a practice and barbecue to showcase the 2015 team to fans.
As the football drills were about to begin, Bill Gunlock regained his composure and explained what the moment meant to him:
“I’ve been on my own since I was 12. When I was growing up in Chillicothe, we had four boys and we struggled. My dad had health issues and died at 55.
“In order to relieve my parents of the burden I went to live with this maiden lady and help take care of her farm.
“I milked five cows every morning before I went to school, I took care of 32 head of sheep and five sows and did all the other stuff. I was always working. I never saw a football game until I was a freshman in high school.”
He took to the game and became enamored of the Miami Redskins as they were known then, because when they traveled to play Ohio University they stayed in Chillicothe.
“They used to practice at our football field and I saw they were small and fast and I thought maybe I could play there one day,” he said.
He moved back home and played high school football while continuing to work on the farm and at other jobs.
Although an undersized 180-pound guard, Gunlock was recruited to Miami by Sid Gillman. Before coming to the campus he played in a prep all-star game and was assigned a room with Schembechler.
“I came to Miami and Bo came too and the rest is history,” he smiled.
After Miami, Bill became a coach at Heidelberg, Bowling Green, Army and Ohio State, where the Buckeyes won the 1961 national title, a feat now commemorated on the bulky ring Gunlock wears.
Randy followed in Dad’s offensive lineman footsteps, playing center at Centerville High School and eventually getting a scholarship offer from Schembechler at Michigan. Realizing his skills were better suited for Miami, he came to Oxford and made himself into a better player.
“I came in a snotty-nosed, soft football player and became a man at Miami,” he said.
Deemed too slow, he began to jump rope every day and play racquetball until he said he became “just fast enough.” He also toughened himself up to handle the center position.
“Football tests what you’re made of,” Randy said. “There’s nothing like playing against a nose guard who might be a little better than you. You’ve got to play him for 60 minutes in front of 20,000 and you better find a way to block him. You’ve got to adjust, because they’re going to keep coming at you.”
The lessons he learned served him well in the business world. Early on, his late mother Dorothy gave him great advice about working and earning money and also being charitable.
She told him not to hoard his money and he has not.
He made the Miami donation, he said, once he saw the new embrace of athletics that has come with the hiring of athletic director David Sayler two and a half years ago and especially the addition last year of Martin, the former Notre Dame coordinator who has been asked to revive a once-proud program that went 0-12 the season before he came.
Martin and Gunlock have become fast friends.
The Gunlock Center will rise up between Yager Stadium and the recently competed David and Anita Dauch Indoor Sports Center, which includes a football practice field.
“Thirty-eight million in additions just in that end zone alone,” Sayler said proudly.
The Gunlock Center not only will impress recruits and cut down time football players use in going to various campus sites to work out, shower and see coaches, but it will alleviate the overload at other facilities.
As Miami president David Hodge noted Saturday: “It’s often said athletics is the front porch of a university.”
And the RedHawks will now have an impressive one that rises up with 10 pillars and a brick facade just beyond the end zone.
But long before there was the magnificent porch, there was a maiden lady’s old barn with milk cows, sows and sheep to be tended to before the early morning school bus arrived.