In the final moments of the 1989 NCAA Division III football championship game, University of Dayton All-American defensive back Jon Husted came down with a game-winning interception to solidify a Flyers victory.
But for Husted, now Ohio Secretary of State, the game is still on the line.
As the state’s chief elections officer, Husted oversees Ohio’s entire elections process and appoints the members of boards of elections for each of the state’s 88 counties. With Ohio serving as a heatedly contested swing state in the 2012 presidential election, the secretary of state said he faced a confluence of unique challenges in November as the national media remained transfixed on the state’s election process.
Major media outlets like CNN and The Washington Post suggested prior to the vote that Husted could be “the most important man” behind the presidential election.
“When you’re in such a high-pressured and chaotic situation like that, things come at you faster than you can deal with them,” Husted said. “There are so many moving parts, you really have to just focus and prioritize in handling the major issues.”
The Republican hardliner’s ability to juggle an overwhelming amount of responsibilities he said was learned during his time at UD where he was forced to balance academics with athletics. An education and communication double major, Husted expressed little interest in politics and no future plans of running for public office while he was a student. What little spare time he had between football and school was spent training and working out.
In the eyes of Husted’s former coach Mike Kelly, the GOP politician was a “freak athlete” and is still the “ultimate competitor.” The former Flyers football coach said Husted consecutively set the team’s physical fitness test record twice and would have been successful at any position on either side of the ball.
As it was, Husted specialized in kick returns and started three years as a shutdown cornerback.
Kelly said Husted’s success in the political arena comes as no surprise, attributing the former athlete’s competitive nature as the driving force behind it.
“He would have been successful in anything he decided to do,” Kelly said. “He’s a man who’s full of integrity and isn’t afraid to be brutally honest if it means getting the job done. With Jon, what you see is what you get and that’s something that’s rare in politics these days.”
After graduating from UD with a bachelor’s degree in December 1989, Husted elected to remain at the university and earn his master’s degree. Shortly after graduating with his master’s in 1992, the gridiron veteran unsuccessfully interviewed for a coaching position at the University of Toledo.
That’s when Husted decided to work for a local congressional campaign of a candidate he felt strongly about. But after only a few weeks with the campaign, Husted received a phone call from college football titan Nick Saban, then head coach at UT.
The four-time national champion coach told Husted that another coaching position opened up that he wanted him to fill.
Husted said when he told the congressional candidate about the coaching position at UT, they promoted him to campaign manager to persuade him to stay. He did.
“That was an important decision,” the secretary of state said. “My life could have turned out very differently. I could have ended up more like my old teammate Jon Gruden.”
Only eight years deep into his already promising political career, Husted was elected in 2000 to the Ohio House of Representatives as a state legislator. In 2004, Husted’s colleagues appointed him as the state’s speaker of the house. At age 37, the representative was one of the youngest officials to ever serve the position.
When his term limit expired in 2010, Husted continued his public service to Ohio when he was elected into the state Senate. Mere months into his senate term representing the 6th District, the Republican successfully ran to serve as the 53rd Ohio Secretary of State.
Aside from overseeing elections, the secretary of state’s responsibilities entail reviewing statewide initiative and referendum petitions, regulating commerce and business services and investigating election fraud and irregularities. Husted is currently taking on initiatives to electronically modernize the voting system in Ohio and reshape how congressional districts are drawn.
After all his success, Husted said UD athletics and academics taught him the life lessons and professional skills necessary to thrive in a competitive environment.
“Dayton was a great institution when I was there and it’s even better now,” he said. “The school not only gave me a great education, but taught me how to be an adult. I couldn’t be more proud to be an alumnus.”
The secretary of state currently resides in Upper Arlington, Ohio, with his wife and three children.
His 17-year-old son Alex will fulfill his father’s legacy next fall when he joins the UD community and football team. He will play in the Flyers’ defensive backfield like his father.
“That’s something you can’t even really describe,” Husted said. “I’m excited to see what he’ll do at UD, but even more excited to see what it will allow him to do after.”