When the University of Oklahoma football team takes on Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Monday, Jan. 1, in Pasadena, California, a group from Westerville will be watching with keen interest.
Tim Kish, a native of Westerville, is an inside linebackers coach for the Sooners who has remained close friends with about a dozen residents of his hometown.
A member of that group is Marc Ayle, who graduated from Westerville High School with Kish in 1972. They played football and basketball at Westerville.
Kish, a defensive back, also played four years of football and one season of basketball at Otterbein, where he was joined by another Westerville graduate, Gary McComb.
Their group meets each summer for golf outings and to swap stories.
"Marc has been a dear friend for a long time," Kish said. "We had quite a group that hung out together and played football (and basketball) together. One of the rare scenarios that you hear is about guys staying in touch with each other. We've done a good job of that. They've been very supportive of my career all the way through, which I'm very appreciative of."
The Rose Bowl represents a semifinal of the College Football Playoff. The winner of the matchup between the second-ranked Sooners (12-1) and third-ranked Bulldogs (12-1) plays No. 1 Clemson (12-1) or No. 4 Alabama (11-1) for the national championship Jan. 8 in Atlanta.
With Oklahoma and Ohio State playing a home-and-home series the last two seasons, Ayle and McComb attended both games.
"We have a really tight little group," said Ayle, who first met Kish when they attended Walnut Springs Middle School. "We all played ball together and all grew up together and he still has a lot of fans. I went to Ohio State and I tell him blood is thicker than water. I'll cheer for Ohio State except when they play the teams that Tim coaches. I'm always with him."
Kish began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green. He then made stops at Purdue, Ball State, Army, Northwestern, Illinois, Ohio University, Indiana and Arizona.
He calls his stint as a defensive ends and outside linebackers coach at Army from 1984-91 a cherished experience. While there, his loyal following from Westerville developed the nickname the "Black Death Rangers."
"We've had that name for years and when we go on a road trip, we're always the 'Black Death Rangers,'" Ayle said.
Kish had a brief stint as a head coach when he replaced Mike Stoops at Arizona on an interim basis in 2011, finishing with a 3-3 mark. Stoops now is the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
At 63 years old, Kish said Oklahoma likely will be the final stop of his coaching career.
"There's no need to look anywhere else when you're at one of the premier schools in the country," he said. "It's a big-time atmosphere and big-time program and I'm fortunate to be a part of it."
Kish's first season at Oklahoma was in 2012 when he was hired by coach Bob Stoops, and he remained with the program when Lincoln Riley replaced Stoops before this season.
In Kish's six seasons with the program, the Sooners have won four Big 12 Conference titles. They also have qualified for the college playoff in two of the last three seasons.
With the early signing period for high school players beginning Dec. 20, Kish takes pride in helping to add DeSales linebacker Brian Asamoah to the Oklahoma program.
"We're happy to have him onboard," Kish said. "It's good to come home and grab one from the area."
Kish credits his late parents, Mike and Geni, for his love of sports and coaching. Mike was a former basketball coach at Upper Arlington, where one of his former players included golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
Kish's sister, Kim Mollohan, is the athletics department secretary at Westerville North.
"I'm very humbled and very grateful that I've had the opportunities I've had," Kish said. "I feel like I've done things the right way and it's enabled me to carry a career that long. Not many people stay in this business that long. ... It's been a great run. Every step I've taken and every place I've been has been a wonderful experience for me."