If there’s one thing the NFL is guilty of, it’s hype.
Yes, the league is not solely responsible for talking up a player incessantly before the draft or a big game, but they are accomplices.
Before the 1999 NFL Draft, Andy Katzenmoyer was the latest college player to be hyped by the league and the national media.
Katzenmoyer was built like a tank and, even more thrilling given his position, fast and agile.
In three years at Ohio State University, the “Big Kat” practically rewrote the book on the linebacker position.
After being selected in the first round of the draft by New England, Katzenmoyer was out of the NFL by 2002.
This is a look back at the life and short pro career of Andy Katzenmoyer.
Name the most random former college football player who pops into your head.
Mine: Ohio State – Andy Katzenmoyer pic.twitter.com/02zZ61bmaE
— Carl Reed (@CoachReed314) June 8, 2019
Early Life and College Choice
Andrew Warren Katzenmoyer was born on December 2, 1977 in Kettering, Ohio.
When he was five years old, the Katzenmoyer family moved to Westerville, Ohio.
Katzenmoyer played high school ball at Westerville South High School and became a prep star by his senior year.
During that 1995 season, Katzenmoyer won the Ohio Mr. Football Award and was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club along with a USA Today High School All-American nod.
Needless to say, with his awards and notoriety, Katzenmoyer had his pick of colleges.
He was regarded as one of the top defensive players in the country at any position.
Katzenmoyer narrowed his list to Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
Since Westerville is a suburb of Columbus, Ohio State was his pick.
That enabled him to be closer to friends and family.
“Despite being recruited by most schools across the country, it really came down to 3 schools that I was interested in attending,” said Katzenmoyer during an August 2021 interview. “Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. All three schools have had an excellent football tradition, especially at the linebacker position and all three ran the same defensive scheme but I chose OSU because I felt that I had the greatest opportunity for success. Plus, growing up in Central Ohio, I grew up a huge fan of the Buckeyes.”
“My family was able to attend all my games both home and away. I was also able to stay close to many of my high school friends that attended OSU.”
Even better, Katzenmoyer was able to secure a playing number considered holy to the Ohio State faithful.
After receiving a blessing from former OSU running back and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, Katzenmoyer would play in jersey number 45.
“I asked to wear 45 after I had signed my letter of intent,” said Katzenmoyer earlier this year. “Coach Cooper called me a week later and told me that Archie said he was fine with me wearing 45. I would have understood if Archie would have said no, but knowing Archie, that isn’t the kind of man he is.”
Katzenmoyer Starts as a Freshman
Katzenmoyer joined an already potent Ohio State team coached by John Cooper.
In 1995, the team finished 11-2 and lost in the Citrus Bowl to Tennessee 20-14.
Katzenmoyer became the first true freshman to ever start at linebacker for the Buckeyes in 1996.
24 years ago today Ohio State opened the season by taking the Rice Owls behind the woodshed 70-7. Reigning USA Today National Defensive Player of the Year Andy Katzenmoyer became the first true freshman to ever start at linebacker for the Scarlet and Gray. #Buckeyes #GoBucks pic.twitter.com/THKBo8UGeF
— Johnstone (@JStoneTrivia86) September 7, 2020
That year, Ohio State finished 11-1, defeated Arizona State 20-17 in the Rose Bowl and was ranked number two in the country in the final polls.
Katzenmoyer was outstanding for the Buckeyes, racking up a plethora of tackles and taking an interception back for a touchdown against the University of Minnesota.
1997 and 1998
During his Ohio State career, Katzenmoyer personified linebacker play that had rarely been seen.
His 6’3’, 250-260 pound frame (which led to his nickname, “The Big Kat”) was devastating to running backs and receivers alike.
— Colton Denning (@Dubsco) July 10, 2020
Katzenmoyer was big enough to stuff larger running backs and deceptively fast (he was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.48 seconds) to hang with tight ends and some receivers in coverage.
In 1997, Katzenmoyer’s sophomore year, the Buckeyes were 10-3 and lost to the Florida State Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl 31-14.
The following year, OSU was 11-1 and played in the Sugar Bowl again, this time winning the game 24-14 over Texas A&M.
The Buckeyes finished number two in the country for the second time in three years.
Katzenmoyer decided to forgo his senior year to enter the NFL Draft and ended his OSU career with 256 total tackles, 50 tackles for loss, 192 yards in losses, 18 quarterback sacks and six interceptions.
In addition to the interception return for a touchdown against Minnesota as a freshman, Katzenmoyer had another pick-six as a sophomore against Arizona.
His two picks for touchdowns tied a program record.
Andy Katzenmoyer sacks Tom Brady during a 1998 Michigan-Ohio State game: pic.twitter.com/TzeoQ96K
— SI Vault (@si_vault) August 3, 2012
The Big Kat was a three-time First-team All-Big Ten, Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year in 1996, won the Jack Lambert Trophy and Dick Butkus Award in 1997 and was a consensus All-American in 1997.
Not everything was rosy during Katzenmoyer’s time in Columbus.
Almost immediately after his arrival as a freshman, it was obvious Katzenmoyer was more interested in football than attending classes.
During five of the seven semesters he had been enrolled at Ohio State through 1997, Katzenmoyer earned a 1.72 grade point average or lower.
In 1999, Sports Illustrated conducted an investigation into allegations that Katzenmoyer received special treatment in order to be academically eligible his junior year.
By the end of the 1997-1998 academic year, Katzenmoyer had pulled in a GPA less than the required 2.0 needed to play.
The result was two summer school sessions that were to be used to get his GPA to 2.0 in time for the 1998 season.
SI’s investigation found that Katzenmoyer’s classes that summer included: AIDS: What Every College Student Should Know and golf.
20 Years Ago Today: Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer makes SI cover. Needs to do well in 3 summer classes to remain academically eligible. They are: Golf, Music & “AIDS: What every college student should know.” Katzenmoyer passes. pic.twitter.com/yGXylSf7GT
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 31, 2018
Additionally, it was found that Katzenmoyer had been granted a grade change for an art education class that he had failed the previous spring.
The grade change and two summer school classes resulted in the Big Kat being eligible for 1998.
Not surprisingly, OSU administrators, teachers and department chairs were quick to defend themselves.
“The only advantage Mr. Katzenmoyer may have had is that he has people looking out for him who know the rules of the university,” says art education department chairman Jim Hutchens (referring to the art class grade change for Katzenmoyer). “Grade changes are discussed in the university handbook. That others don’t know that only means they haven’t read the handbook. I don’t think it’s as suspicious as it may look.”
“From everything I learned, nothing was done for Andy Katzenmoyer that can’t be done for any other student of the university. Some will take those facts and see it one way. I saw that no rules or regulations were broken,” said then OSU president William Kirwin of the allegations.
Perhaps the most obvious admission about the grade scandal came from former OSU safety, and later Philadelphia Eagles draft pick, Damon Moore.
Moore had been a teammate of Katzenmoyer and received the same help during summer classes to keep himself eligible.
“Not everyone comes to college to be in college. I’m that way, and Kat was pretty open about it, too. He was bothered by some people who asked about the grade change. Everybody gets grade changes. I’ve had some grades changed. Other people have, too. Now we’re both headed to the NFL, which is what we came here to do,” said Moore.
Hello New England!
The article in Sports Illustrated was of little consequence to Katzenmoyer when it was published in the summer of 1999.
With the 28th overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft in April, the New England Patriots had selected the Big Kat.
At the time, the Pats were led by coach Pete Carroll, who had led the team to the playoffs in his first two seasons in New England.
In 1999, Katzenmoyer played well for a rookie, starting in 11 games.
He contributed 79 combined tackles along with 3.5 sacks and 15 tackles for a loss.
Happy 43rd bday Andy Katzenmoyer! Drafted #28 overall by the Patriots in 1999, he had 79 tackles, 3.5 sacks & a 57 yard interception return for a touchdown as a rookie. Only played 8 more games, totaling 22 tackles. pic.twitter.com/49BNf0xIDL
— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) December 3, 2020
Katzenmoyer also pulled down an interception and returned it 57 yards for a touchdown.
The Patriots finished the season 8-8 and Carroll was let go.
In his place, New England hired former Browns head coach Bill Belichick.
Belichick Calls Out the Big Kat
The differences between the two coaches was obvious by day one.
The laid back, fun, easy going Carroll was replaced by a disciplinarian in Belichick who demanded adherence to rules and a team-first mentality.
“That first year under Belichick. I mean front office staff, players, administrative people, trainers, coaches and everyone was under the radar and felt the pressure,” said Katzenmoyer in 2020. “He (Belichick) needed to figure out what was working, what didn’t work, who was going to be a good fit. There were guys who were very talented but they didn’t mesh well to what he wanted to do and those guys went on to fit in well with other NFL organizations.”
Katzenmoyer himself found out first hand what playing for Belichick would entail.
During the initial team meeting with Belichick, Katzenmoyer arrived a few minutes late and was called out by his new coach in front of the entire team.
“Katzenmoyer!” Belichick snapped at the linebacker, one of the team’s two first-round picks in 1999. “Who in the hell do you think you are? Get your ass out of here! I’ll talk to you after the meeting,” read an excerpt from the book “War Room: The Legacy of Bill Belichick and the Art of Building the Perfect Team” by Michael Holley.
From that moment on, Katzenmoyer and Belichick would be at odds.
In Bill Belichick’s first team meeting as head coach of the Patriots, he told a tardy Andy Katzenmoyer, a first round pick, to take a hike. @mlombardiNFL
— Dan Corrado (@corrado_dan) August 17, 2021
The linebacker who had free reign in college and his rookie season would be held in check by his new coach and given no quarter.
In 2000, Belichick’s first in New England, Katzenmoyer started three games and played in eight.
He made 22 combined tackles, including one tackle for a loss, and defended four passes.
However, after Week 8, Katzenmoyer was placed on injured reserve with a neck injury.
It turns out that, near the end of his rookie year, Katzenmoyer had injured his neck in a game against Buffalo.
He had attempted to play through the pain in 2000, but the injury became too much and he was shut down mid-way through the year.
2001 and Release from New England
Belichick turned around the fortunes of the Patriots quickly.
In 2001, the team put together an 11-5 record, beat the Raiders in the infamous “Tuck Rule” Divisional playoff game, slipped past the Steelers in the AFC Championship game and defeated the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Katzenmoyer was one of the Patriots players to receive a Super Bowl ring after the season.
However, that was more of a technicality.
During training camp before the ‘01 season began, Katzenmoyer was concerned when he felt pain in his back and neck during contact drills.
Believing that his body had not healed from surgery the previous season, Katzenmoyer left camp.
He didn’t bother to touch base with Belichick about why he suddenly left until a few days later.
— Pats Historian (@PatsHistorian) July 31, 2017
Katzenmoyer called Belichick and expressed concern about re-aggravating the injury during drills.
Belichick gave his linebacker a few weeks to consult doctors and rest his body.
However, as the beginning of the ‘91 season neared, Belichick’s patience was at an end.
The team added free agent linebackers Bryan Cox and Roman Phifer.
Katzenmoyer then had a second surgical procedure on his neck which placed him on Injured Reserve for the season.
“I feel confident and the doctors feel confident that this will take care of it,” Belichick said in August 2001. “We’re moving on. We would like to have Andy out on the field,” Belichick continued. “That didn’t work out, so we’ve already been in the process of moving along.”
Katzenmoyer was also confident at the time that the surgery would be successful and that he would rejoin the organization for 2002.
“I feel confident,” Katzenmoyer said. “This is totally going to relieve the problem. What happened was something that was totally out of my control. No doctor could ever tell that this was ever going to happen. I’m already looking forward to next season. I’m just relieved that this will solve everything.”
Unfortunately, it did not solve everything.
Katzenmoyer got his championship ring, but that was it for his time in New England.
In fact, Katzenmoyer was finished as an NFL player.
Because of his injuries, the Big Kat never played another down in the league.
In just a season and a half of playing time, Katzenmoyer had 101 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 16 tackles for a loss, five passes defended and one interception for a touchdown return.
With his NFL career in the tank and no college degree to speak of, Katzenmoyer was a proverbial man without a country for a few years.
He drifted in and out of careers without success.
Katzenmoyer tried to flip a house at one time, but only made a few hundred dollars for his troubles.
A couple of years later, he returned to Ohio State and helped out in the football weight room.
He enjoyed the work and that gave Katzenmoyer the confidence to open his own training facility to help athletes and regular joes.
As of the summer of 2021, Katzenmoyer is selling insurance for Hosket Ulen Insurance Solutions.
He is also the president of the NFL Alumni of Central Ohio.
Amazing to have legendary #Buckeyes Coach John Cooper & "The Big Kat" Andy Katzenmoyer supporting my outing for rescue animals! Thanks my brothers! #HomelessToHome #Adopt #PayForward #GolfClubLittleTurtle pic.twitter.com/LrkTH0t7s5
— Anthony Rothman (@AnthonyRothman) August 23, 2021
Katzenmoyer’s experience in the NFL provides yet another cautionary tale for the next wave of overhyped athletes.
He has shown that even the most promising and “NFL ready” athletes can suffer career threatening (or career-ending) injuries.
Choosing to put one’s faith entirely on a sport and not work toward a college degree has its own perils.
Andy Katzenmoyer can attest to that.