The academic advisor on that staff was Jeff Kaplan, like Duffner, a fast young-and-up-and-comer who had been a G.A. for Hayes the year before. Soon Duffner would be the youngest defensive coordinator in the country at the University of Cincinnati and Kaplan would begin a versatile executive career blending talents in higher education and health.
But back then they were two kids who grew a bond on the grind under Wayne Woodrow Hayes.
“I’ve got a picture I’ve put in my office at every university I’ve ever been,” Kaplan says. “It’s picture of eight young (coaches) at a bar. Duff and I are the only guys drinking cokes.
“The thing about Duff, he’s a wonderful coach. But he’s an even better person.”
That’s how Kaplan saw Abu, too. As he looked at the story, he could hear Woody.
“Woody Hayes always taught us, ‘Look at family. Look at perseverance.’ This guy has been through a lot,” Kaplan says. “He has the will, the commitment.
“A lot of great athletes coming into college out of high school have the talent and Woody always said you have to have that. But he’d say to look beyond that to the family and what the character is and this guy just seemed to have the character. Heart is what it really is. He’s got the heart.”
Kaplan jokes he was worried that Duffner, just off his first Super Bowl trip, would shake his head…