With 2,945 rushing yards from 2004-2006, Antonio Pittman ranks 13th all-time at Ohio State.
“I consider myself the most underrated Buckeye in Buckeye history,” he says with a hint of a laugh. “And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that because, in all honesty, I never do anything to get attention. I only do it if I like doing it. ‘never forced to do anything, and I ‘never hungered to be noticed.’
Perhaps the proof is in the way Pittman and his girlfriend, Janei, a teacher from Columbus, run their charity, Navigating Alternative Success. It organizes tutoring sessions for students in need of ACT prep, helps them with college admissions letters, organizes coat drives and more, but it lacks any sort of web presence. .
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“We just never publicized it,” Pittman said, explaining why he just can’t bring himself to be an aggressive fundraiser. “I never really liked taking things from people.”
In fact, there’s really only one accomplishment Pittman wants to brag about, a passion he preaches with the fervor of a pastor in a Sunday revival.
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“This enters my sixth year as a full-time firefighter, and seven and a half years in total,” he said. “The job itself is very rewarding. It takes a lot of patience. It taught me a lot about myself. It puts life in a different perspective, that’s for sure.
“I would say it’s one of the best jobs in the world, but one of the worst advertised.”
Pittman never considered this an option. When he was at Akron Buchtel High School, he was just trying to avoid the same problems as some of his classmates. He said every member of the football team who played in the “I” formation alongside him ended up serving at least one prison sentence.
“The reality of (a job in) public safety when you grow up downtown is that it’s kind of frowned upon,” Pittman said.
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He still seemed an unlikely candidate for such a career when he entered the 2007 NFL Draft. The Saints selected him in the fourth round. While New Orleans cut him before the start of this season, he was able to sign with the St. Louis Rams. He played there until 2009, when he underwent surgery for a microfracture in his knee.
The rehabilitation from the injury was taking so long that he understood on some level that he was not going to return to the league. Reluctant to give up the game, however, he continued hitting the gym in hopes of another hit.
And that’s where he met Violet Township Fire Lt. Kevin McFarland.
McFarland pushed Pittman for about two years, telling him he would be a perfect fit for the department. He brought Pittman to his post for pizza nights.
“He just wanted me to give myself the experience of firehouse culture,” Pittman said.
It was a culture that Pittman had fallen in love with, but he still didn’t know how he would fit into it.
“You never really see too many black firefighters in your neighborhood, or in any neighborhood when (they) jump off those trucks,” Pittman said.
Eventually, the same things that drew him to football made him try this new career. The camaraderie and physique appealed to him, so he used his NFL earnings to pay for attendance at the fire academy.
Now working in Columbus, he wants to make sure minority kids see him when he jumps out of the truck. He wants it to be noticed.
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He’s so excited about recruiting the next generation of firefighters that he’s joined former Ohio State running back-turned-firefighter Jordan Leasure to create an internship that attempts to “bridge the gap between student-athletes and the firefighting career. . .. Just trying to give them a better perspective, trying to introduce them to the great benefits, lifestyle, 100% tuition reimbursement, pension and things of that nature; and try to help them fall in love and develop that passion the same way we do.”
He has not finished preaching.
“They can see it’s my second career,” he said, “and I love it as much as I enjoyed playing football.”