COLUMBUS -- When Kirk Herbstreit decided to open up about his experience as a football father and son in a book, he was not sure what the reaction might be.
“It’s real scary to not just talk about football and GameDay and the job that I do, but to open up about my family and just talk about being a dad and not having all the answers and making so many mistakes and continuing to make mistakes,” the ESPN college football analyst and former Centerville High and Ohio State quarterback said this week in an interview previewing Saturday’s Ohio State’s game against Michigan State.
“I’ve been I’ve been very, very touched (by the reaction). I don’t want to say shocked, but just overwhelmed I guess would be the best word.”
Herbstreit’s book, “Out of the Pocket: Football, Fatherhood and College GameDay Saturdays,” was co-written with ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski and released in late summer, and offers readers a deeper look into the life of a 52-year-old who has been living in the public sphere for decades.
Here are five insights from the book:
1. Though he is best known as being from Centerville, Herbstreit spent his earliest days in Trotwood.
His father, Jim, was an assistant coach at Miami University when Kirk was born, but the family moved to a house on Weybridge Avenue when Jim opted for a career change.
Kirk has very fond memories of those years.
“My block was like a lot of blocks in Trotwood,” Herbstreit wrote. “We had a mix of nationalities, races, religions — not that it mattered to me. 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. It was perfect. I wish every kid could experience it. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a second of it.”
2. His experiences in Centerville coincided with his deepening love of sports.
Herbstreit’s idyllic life lasted only until his parents got 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 describes tough times for his mother, sister and brother as they tried to scratch out a life with his father remaining distant.
“Since he couldn’t have custody of us full-time, he decided to barely deal with us at all… My dad had been a bigger-than-life figure to me, but now we couldn’t depend on him. I was just a kid, but I didn’t know whom to trust and whom to believe. I loved my parents, but all our lives had been turned upside down, I just wanted everyone to be happy. I wanted it to be like it used to be.”
3. A return to Centerville launched another chapter of his life — as a hotshot recruit.
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.
That led to a reset in is life with his father asking him where he preferred to live and what high school he wanted to attend. He chose Centerville over Cincinnati Moeller and Princeton because he was attracted to the old-school coaching style of the Elks’ Bob Gregg.
“My mom was doing some high school scouting work,” he wrote. “She looked into Kettering Fairmont as well as Centerville High She talked to a few of the football moms at Centerville, and they complained about how tough Gregg was on his players. The more they complained, the more my mom became convinced that Centerville High was the right place for me.”
He turned out to be a perfect fit for Gregg’s triple-option offense and grew into a coveted recruit.
Though Herbstreit grew up an Ohio State fan, the book reveals he found a lot to like about Michigan on the recruiting trail — including coach Bo Schembechler, his offense and a the Wolverines’ quarterback at the time, Jim Harbaugh.
He ultimately chose Ohio State because, well, it was Ohio State, the school where his dad was a captain who both played and coached for Woody Hayes, but the younger Herbstreit’s college experience in Columbus, where he was new coach John Cooper’s first recruit, did not go so well.
Kirk found friction with some of Cooper’s assistants and pro-style offense, but but became the starting quarterback as a senior after his father talked him out of transferring. His senior season could have gone better — the Buckeyes were 8-3-1 with a tie against Michigan — but the media exposure proved to be valuable in his transition to his next career.
4. The book goes on to describe his personal and professional path since finishing his playing career with his relationships with his father and his sons a recurring theme.
“I am a reflection of my dad, of my mom, of the complex and layered circumstances of my childhood,” Herbstreit writes toward the end. “I could have let those circumstances dictate the arc of my life. I could have blamed others. I could have been a self-pity guy.
“I chose resilience. I chose toughness. I chose compassion and a smile on my face. I miss my dad. He made mistakes as a father — we all do — but I’ve tried to learn form his mistakes, and from my own.”
5. Herbstreit’s career in the media, which began at WBNS in Columbus in the mid-’90s, is chronicled along with his in the book along with his continuing to cultivate the relationship with his father and becoming a dad himself to four boys.
Though he moved his family to Nashville in 2011, Herbstreit’s career brings him back to his home state regularly, and that is happening again this weekend when he will call his second Ohio State game of the season.
It’s also a chance to see his son, Zak, a freshman walk-on tight end for the Buckeyes, and catch up with old friends.
“My hope all along was that the book would resonate with some other people that maybe have been through their own trials and tribulations, and that’s what I’ve been really touched by as how many people have have reached out,” Herbstreit said this week. “I just can’t tell you how many people who’ve reached out sent me notes, tweeted me things. I’ve been blown away and beyond humbled and appreciative of of that.”