As a friend and former competitor, not even Sandusky graduate El Da'Sheon Nix could have foreseen the meteoric rise of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
On Sunday, Roethlisberger, a 2000 Findlay graduate, will play in his third Super Bowl in six years when the Steelers take on the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
"It's even kind of surreal, playing against a guy from high school that you still talk to," said Nix, a 2000 SHS graduate. "To see him being mentioned with some of the all time greats, it's surreal, even being on the outside of it all."
While Nix went on to Northwestern over Ohio State, Duke and Miami (Ohio) for his skills as a receiver, it was as a defensive back that he went one-on-one with Roethlisberger when he was a member of the Trojans.
Both Sandusky and Findlay were affiliated with the defunct Great Lakes League at the time.
"He was a competitor, whether it was basketball or football," Nix said of Roethlisberger. "Just a great competitor. A lot of people don't know he wasn't the quarterback there until he was a senior. When he was junior and sophomore he was receiver, and that wasn't that big of a problem for me.
"But when he was the QB, and we joke to this day about it, he just had guys that didn't drop the ball. We were blasting his receivers and tight ends, but they simply would not drop it."
In that 1999 season, Roethlisberger set state records for yards passing (4,041) and touchdown passes (54). He also tied a state record with eight TD passes in a game against Fremont Ross.
Roethlisberger was runner up for Ohio's Mr. Football, but he was named the Art Teynor Player of the Year by the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association (OHSFCA) and Ohio's Division I Offensive Player of the Year.
Against the Blue Streaks in the game Nix referred to, Roethlisberger was 19 of 33 for 281 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 41 yards and a TD on five attempts.
Nix faired well also, catching six passes for 107 yards while playing with a cast on his hand.
As Nix and Roethlisberger both became heavily recruited, the two grew closer.
"From playing against each other all the time and both getting recruited a lot, we just began to talk a lot more," Nix said. "We'd always sit by each other during basketball games before we played.
"Back then we always joked we'd go to Duke together because they were running the spread offense. Obviously I went to Northwestern and he went to Miami, but till kind of talk to this day."
Adding to Nix's friendship with Roethlisberger is the fact he's good friends with Pittsburgh guard Trai Essex, also a Northwestern alumnus, as well as running back Rashard Mendhenall, a University of Illinois product.
"I talk to Trai the most, but Rashard is always around and we play basketball a lot during the offseason," Nix said. "Those are the guys I talk to most, and whenever I go up to Pittsburgh I hang out with mostly the offensive lineman, so Ben is around them a lot of course.
"I've taken Trai back to Sandusky with me a lot of times, so I know people back home know who he is."
The last time Nix, who lives in Chicago, met with Roethlisberger was after the Steelers 23-20 upset loss at Cincinnati in the 2009 season.
"He treated the whole offensive line to a trip to Chicago, and we hung out that weekend," Nix said.
Roethlisberger's off-field troubles have been the elephant in the room during Super Bowl coverage in Dallas this week. The quarterback was suspended for the first four games of the season when a second incident of sexual assault charges came up over a summer incident in Georgia.
But from afar, Nix sees a changed person.
I think it definitely humbled him," he said. "When you are a two-time champ, you have a contract like that, sometimes the rules may not apply to you, or you think that. anyway.
"It humbled him and brought the team closer, teaching him to be being above everyone else as one unit, being a leader. Hopefully a win on Sunday can be a great ending to a not so great start to this year."
Nix is currently the administrative coordinator of the Cabrini Connections Tutor/Mentor Program. Cabrini-Green is a public housing development on Chicago's Near North Side. Over the years, gang violence and neglect has created terrible conditions for the residents, and the name Cabrini-Green became synonymous with the problems associated with public housing in the United States.
"It's a pretty bad area over there, and a lot of things go on that never even reach the news," Nix said.
Through the program, 80 kids per year grades 7-12 are matched up with a mentor.
As for his football career, Nix has no regrets. He was never able to suit up for the Wildcats after tearing his meniscus in his knee.
He was expected to be a starter coming in, but even after rehab for two years, the knee never recovered.
"I just couldn't come back from it," he said. "At the time, I was the third athlete in history to have a meniscus transplant surgery. It just didn't work out for me."
It's also no surprise Nix is pulling for the Steelers on Sunday, but not just because he has friends on the team.
"I'm going with the Steelers, definitely," he said. "Besides, (Charles) Woodson is a Packer, and you know how us Streaks feel about the (Fremont Ross) Little Giants."