Login | February 20, 2018

Former NFL pro-turned-firefighter reflects on career change

ED RICHTER
Hamilton-Middleton Journal News

Published: February 12, 2018

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio (AP) — One of Middletown's newest firefighters has seen a lot in his life, and he's bringing that experience to a new profession.

Antonio Pittman was sworn in last month as a Middletown firefighter and has a unique background of playing football for the Ohio State Buckeyes and with the former St. Louis Rams of the NFL.

Pittman, 32, grew up in one of Akron's inner-city neighborhoods and said he was fortunate that he didn't take any wrong turns or make any wrong choices. He credits his mother, sisters, grandparents and uncles for keeping him on the right course, even though his father wasn't around much. As he grew up, his brother died at a young age.

While he described his life as "blessed," Pittman said he's "experienced a lot of highs and lows of a true underdog story."

"A couple of wrong turns could have had you end up in jail, or worse," he said. "The things that I've seen, the choices I could have made, I can honestly say if I'd gone left I would be in another situation or if I made a right turn, I would have a good life. That wrong turn could have been my last."

Pittman said that of the players in the "I'' formation from his Buchtel High School team, he's the only one that hasn't been in jail.

He said that during his freshman year of high school he suffered a broken leg and was struggling academically. He had a decent year as a sophomore but was still struggling with grades, and he started his junior year as a student trying to figure things out. That's when things changed for him.

"I started my junior season with no (scholarship) offers and had 50 offers at the end of the year," he said. "That turned the switch. I went to summer school and retook classes into my senior year. I graduated early in December and went to OSU in the spring."

His teammates at OSU included Ted Ginn Jr., Troy Smith, Santonio Holmes, and Chris "Beanie" Wells on a team coached by Jim Tressel.

"It was a challenge because I was given an opportunity to get out of my environment," Pittman said. "It opened my eyes up to life in general. The season has its ups and downs which are reality checks in life.

"It made me a man because it showed me that everything I wanted was in reach. I'm forever grateful to OSU, Coach Tressel and staff for what they gave me."

Pittman is among the top 10 of the all-time Buckeyes rushing list.

Pittman was a member of the Buckeyes team that played in the 2007 BCS National Championship game but lost to Florida 41-14. He said "the biggest game of our lives" was when No. 1 Ohio State played No. 2 Michigan with the Buckeyes winning 42-39 in 2006. During his time at OSU, the Buckeyes never lost to Michigan. He scored the winning touchdown in 2005 to defeat Michigan.

Pittman opted to enter the NFL Draft in 2007 and was selected in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints. He was cut before the season started and was picked up by the then-St. Louis Rams, where he played until he was waived in September 2009.

"It was a great opportunity," he said. "I made good money and it helped me to take care of his family and take a lot of worry off people's backs."

After leaving pro football, Pittman used his sports background and did media work in Columbus and opened a shipping business. For more than a year, he kept working out with the hopes of possibly resuming his pro career. At a gym in suburban Columbus, he kept getting nudged by Kevin McFarland, a Violet Twp. fire lieutenant, about joining the fire service.

"I wasn't happy doing what I was doing," Pittman said. "I knew I had to do something physical because I didn't want to punch a clock."

Pittman graduated from the Ohio Fire Academy in 2015 and spent about a year and a half testing and looking for job with a fire department.

Since then, he's worked part-time for fire departments in Washington Twp. and Kettering before joining the Middletown Division of Fire in December. He still resides in Columbus with his two daughters.

"I came here to learn as much as I can," Pittman said. "I want to stay busy and show them I'm willing to work."

He said the lessons he learned as a football player transferred to being a firefighter.

"Being at Ohio State, it taught me discipline and to live by core values and your life principles," he said. "This is everything I wanted and more. It's the same as football, when we have down time, it's like being in the locker room, but when the call comes in, it's like putting on your helmet for a fourth-and-one situation.."

Pittman said he enjoys the whole aspect of helping people, the thrill of running into a burning building and giving back to the community. "This is not just my only way of giving back to this community," he said. "But it's giving back to my family by showing kids there are different routes after sports and it's OK to be in public safety.

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Information from: MIDDLETOWN: Hamilton-Middletown Journal News , http://www.journal-news.com


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