As Todd Sibley and the rest of his Akron Archbishop Hoban teammates gathered pregame inside the tunnel Thursday night — the same tunnel Ohio State runs out of each time it takes the field at Ohio Stadium — the Knights’ star running back took a quick second to think about what was coming down the road.
Sibley was just mere minutes from playing in the biggest game of his life — the OHSAA Division III state championship game against defending champion Toledo Central Catholic — yet the 2017 Ohio State commit couldn’t help but to briefly think about the future.
“I had never been more excited in my life to play in a high school football game; it was the biggest one I’ve ever played in,” Sibley said afterward. “Just coming out of the tunnel, I felt like I was in a Buckeye uniform. It felt so right, at home, and just looking up in the stands seeing our crowd and all that, it made me feel like I belong here.”
And on the very same field Sibley intends to play his college football, in front of thousands of Hoban fans and perhaps a few Ohio State ones that came to watch him play, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound bruising tailback certainly didn't disappoint. Sibley carried the ball 33 times for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the Knights’ 33-20 win, helping lift Hoban to its first-ever state championship.
Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer was roaming the sidelines, too, and witnessed Sibley take a first-quarter handoff, break through the line of scrimmage and scamper 55 yards untouched to the house to give the Knights the early lead. When he reached the end zone, Meyer made sure Sibley knew he had his approval.
“He actually winked at me after my long touchdown run,” Sibley said.
Sibley winked back, of course, and then continued to run all over the Fighting Irish defense the rest of the night. He later scored on a 22-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to help give Hoban a two-score lead at halftime.
“You feel like you can’t be tackled,” the four-star prospect said. “You feel like every hole is — you can drive a truck through it. To have my start that I did, it was exciting.”
Sibley’s backfield running mate, quarterback Danny Clark, is also committed to play for Ohio State. He, like Sibley, is a junior. This is their first season playing together — Clark transferred to Hoban in the offseason — and it won’t be their last. They still have one more to go in high school and then at least three additional years together at Ohio State.
Clark was simply asked to manage the game Thursday and let Sibley take care of the heavy lifting. The 6-foot-4, 223-pound four-star prospect completed just four passes, but two of those went for long touchdowns. He had scoring tosses of 55 and 33 yards.
“This was our goal,” Clark said of winning the state title. “This has been on the board since we started two-a-days because we had the caliber of players that could do it.”
The relationship between Clark and Sibley is obviously important for Hoban, but it is also crucial to the future of Ohio State. These are the two players Meyer has selected to be the focal point of his power-spread offense in the 2017 class.
They’ve known each other for years, but this was their first season on the same team. Clark and Sibley have already been able to develop a chemistry that many players have to wait until they arrive in Columbus to even begin.
“Me and Danny have been friends for a while now,” Sibley said. “We’ve talked about playing college football together, talked about winning a high school state championship together.”
Added Clark: “To have [Sibley] on my side going through this journey, it’s something really special. I’m glad I came here and I’m glad I got to know him.”
After the victory had been clinched, Tim Tyrell received an ice bath from a few of his players. It was a chilly December evening in Columbus, but the Hoban head coach was almost expressionless in what had to be a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
He saved all of his emotions for the postgame press conference, though. And the first question he was asked was about his dynamic duo of Clark and Sibley.
“I’m just very happy on they’re on my team,” Tyrell said, smiling. “They’re both great football players and they’re both great kids. They’re very, very coachable.”
When the clock struck zero and the Hoban players stormed onto the field to celebrate their historic win, Clark raised both of his hands in the air and was jumping on any and every teammate in sight. Sibley was stopped by the FOX Sports crew who was broadcasting the game live to do a postgame interview.
They are the two biggest stars on the best team in the state. And they both had opportunities to shine on their future field Thursday night.
“Me and Todd, throughout these weeks, we were close in the summer but we got closer every single week,” Clark said. “We tell each other every day we love each other and we’re glad we’re part of the same family.”
“To actually see our dream come to a reality is a great feeling,” Sibley added. “I can’t wait to get back to work with him and try to do a repeat.”
Ohio State fans are hoping for that repeat. And when Clark and Sibley actually become Buckeyes, they’re hoping the two can lead their team to more championships, too.