In the excitement of the football playoffs, it is a great time to share the story of someone, born in Marion, who played Big Ten college football and was a wide receiver in the National Football League for eight seasons. His name is Otis James McDuffie.
McDuffie played college football for Penn State University and there earned All-American honors. Then as a first-round pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, he played professionally for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. But his story began in Marion, Ohio.
Otis James McDuffie, known as OJ, was born December 2, 1969, in Marion, Ohio. He later moved to the Cleveland, Ohio area, attending school in Gates Mills, Ohio, excelling in football, basketball, track and field, and baseball. But, he started his football career in Marion in the Marion Midget Football league. Memorabilia from McDuffie’s early days playing Marion Midget Football were featured in an exhibit entitled “A Passion to Play” at the Marion County Historical Society.
OJ had an illustrious high school sports history at Hawken School and was named by The News Herald as the number three player of the 20th century in Northeast Ohio. He went on to attend Pennsylvania State University and played for Coach Joe Paterno’s Penn State’s Nittany Lions football team. He wore the number 24 for the Lions. During his college career, OJ set several single-season and career receiving records, as well as all-purpose yards records. In the 1992 Fiesta Bowl, Penn State won against Tennessee. OJ received this game’s offensive Most Valuable Player award.
McDuffie also played one season of varsity baseball, in 1990, while at Penn State. OJ still holds the Penn State record for stolen bases in a single game with 4. He is also in the top 10 for stolen bases in a single season at the college. OJ was also drafted by the then California Angels of the 1991 Major League Baseball Draft but did not sign.
OJ earned a Bachelor of Science degree in labor and industrial relations from Penn State in 1992.
In the first round of the 1993 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins selected McDuffie. He was the twenty-fifth pick overall. His career with the Dolphins started as returning punts and was a reserve wide receiver before earning a starting spot.
During his first years with the Dolphins, McDuffie became known as Dan Marino’s favorite receiver. His 415 career catches are fourth in Dolphins history. In 1998, OJ caught 90 passes, leading the NFL in that category, and was the first Dolphin to achieve this mark. In that same year, McDuffie became the first player in NFL history to record at least 90 receptions and 10 punt returns in a season without a fumble.
OJ McDuffie played his entire career in Miami, retiring in 2000 because of a nagging toe injury.
But that doesn’t end OJ McDuffie’s inspiring story. “Penn State always taught us to be involved in our community,” McDuffie said. “It wasn’t enough to just play football and go to class. All summer long we attended charity events at Penn State. I wanted to make sure I continued doing that once I got to South Florida.”
OJ created a foundation, in 2007, with the goal to raise money for children’s charitable causes throughout South Florida. It is called the Catch 81 Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is “Continuing to grow and make great strides towards funding various programs, charitable causes and change the lives and futures of our youth.”
It hosts a series of special fundraising events, such as an annual Spring Celebrity Golf Classic and an annual Strikes for Kids bowling event, among others. The Catch 81 Foundation has been able to raise money for various organizations and other non-profits that aid in the support of at-risk children. On December 14, 2020, the Foundation just completed a successful toy drive despite COVID-19.
OJ McDuffie still has family in the Marion area and connects with them regularly.
OJ is also a radio and podcast personality in his retirement. Much of this work is still connected with the Miami Dolphins. OJ continues to inspire young people, not only in sports but in supporting his community and giving back to others. That is the MarionMade! spirit.