MASSILLON – Pickerington Central’s punt team trotted out onto Paul Brown Tiger Stadium midway through the first quarter of Friday night's season opener against Massillon Washington. Squatting down in the middle of the line of scrimmage and placing his hands on the ball was a 6-foot-4, 215-pound athlete wearing No. 3 on his jersey, preparing to snap a ball for only the second time in his prep career.
Only, the snap didn’t go to the punter. On fourth-and-2, lining up in front of the punter to his right, Tigers defensive lineman CJ Doggette was the recipient of the pigskin on a designed fake punt. Doggette caught Massillon napping and broke off a 24-yard first down run, setting the Tigers up in enemy territory. The momentum swing eventually led to the first score of the night in Pickerington Central’s eventual 26-7 victory. When the play was over, Doggette was swarmed by his teammates, including the team's new long snapper, in celebration.
Sonny Styles: long snapper on a fake punt! (Yes, it fooled me). pic.twitter.com/OuOoiXp7KD— Garrick Hodge (@Garrick_Hodge) August 20, 2021
And so, a legend was born Friday night. Sonny Styles: The five-star longsnapper. Not what you were expecting, eh?
“Whatever helps the team win,” Styles said after the game. “If I’m the best one at it, I’m going to do it.”
Of course, the Pickerington Central standout provided his usual defensive prowess for most of the night, excluding one Massillon scoring drive. He didn’t allow a single pass to be caught on his watch, defending both targets attempted his way. In fairness, Massillon only attempted 10 passes in total on the evening and only controlled the ball for 6 minutes and 28 seconds total in the first half.
“I’ve improved in man-to-man coverage,” Styles said. “Last year when I would play deep safety, I used to come up a little. I’ve done a better job of staying up top. I just want to improve on being able to come down here, good angles, to be able to communicate with the whole team.”
The No. 8 player in the 2023 class, per 247Sports' composite rankings, Styles also made a key defensive contribution with a crucial third-down tackle in the second half to set up a fourth-down stop a play later. While he stayed at free safety for most of the evening, Styles provided plenty of pressure on the opposing offense when he was asked to play the edge at the line of scrimmage.
Styles isn’t just a one-way player for the Tigers. He doesn’t mind his new long snapping duties, saying he even practiced the task last season and did it in middle school, but was never asked to do it in a high school game until Friday.
“I’m getting used to it,” Styles said with a smile. “It’s a lot different doing it in a game with a bunch of people and a loud crowd. But, it’s cool.”
He also came close to blocking punts a couple of times on Friday. The Ohio State target snuck in on offense and gave the Massillon defense a new look when he served as a decoy at wide receiver for a single play. Lining up on the outside, Styles drew plenty of attention from Massillon defenders, setting up one-on-one coverage for his teammates. Pickerington Central’s pass downfield to another wideout fell incomplete, but Styles had served his purpose.
Having been on the national recruiting scene for about a year now, Styles knows he’s developing a big platform. On Friday, he tried to use some of it to lift his teammates up. After his defense created a takeaway to preserve the Tigers’ lead, a photographer approached Styles on the sideline and asked him if he'd pose for a picture. Styles flashed a grin, turned to face his teammate responsible for the turnover and said, “that’s the guy you need a picture of,” before eventually honoring the request. In his postgame interview with several reporters, he went out of his way to highlight fellow defensive back Rasheem Biles without being asked specifically about him.
“I think I’m a leader,” Styles said. “I think I lead by my play and as well as a vocal leader. Last year, I wasn’t really a vocal leader, so I’m trying to start being a more vocal leader.”
There are plenty of recruiting visits on the horizon for Ohio's No. 1 prospect in the 2023 cycle. Styles hopes to attend Ohio State’s home opener against Oregon and will also attend games this fall at Notre Dame, Clemson, Florida and Florida State, among others.
“I wouldn’t say (a decision) is a long way (away),” Styles said. “But I won’t say I’m in a hurry, either. I’m really just taking my time, whenever the time is right for me and I find the best fit for me, that’s when I’ll make my decision.”
But in the meantime, he’s happy to serve whatever role the Tigers need him to.