The last time Coldwater High School played in a state championship game, Ross Homan was just an ordinary fan in the eighth grade. The Cavaliers lost to an abundantly talented team from Youngstown Ursuline in a shootout, 49-37, back in the 2000 campaign.
Last season, Homan, an extraordinary talent on the gridiron, led an undefeated Coldwater team into the state semifinals but they were defeated by a team that they had beaten during the regular season and were denied a chance to get back to the state championship contest. Versailles had avenged an earlier 10-7 loss to Coldwater with a 14-0 victory in the rematch, and the Cavaliers finished the year with a 13-1 record.
This year, with Homan now returning for his senior campaign, the Cavaliers' chances for making it back to the state championship game have to be at least as good as anyone else's in Division IV. Homan, an Ohio State linebacker recruit, verbally committed to Jim Tressel on Feb. 7, one day after Chris Wells, the fine running back from Akron Garfield, did.
"Growing up, I was a huge Ohio State fan. They were the team to watch every Saturday," Homan said. "And my cousin Bobby (Hoying) played for them so our family is really excited about it."
On national signing day, Feb. 2, Homan got a phone call at school from assistant coach Luke Fickell, and he officially received an offer from OSU that day.
"I talked to him about how they were just finishing one recruiting season and starting another, and they wanted to offer me that day," Homan said. "And then Coach Tressel called me back to verify the offer and he told me that they wanted me to play for them."
Homan went to OSU's junior day that following Saturday and became convinced that Ohio State was the best fit for him. He officially committed two days later.
"I went there knowing that this could probably be the place for me and after that I knew it was going to be the place," he said. "The coaches were great and all of the facilities were amazing."
Homan's camp experience at Ohio State last summer initially cemented his original desire to become a Buckeye.
"I went there for camp and Coach Fickell and Coach Snyder talked to me the whole time and led me around to everything," Homan said. "I just felt real comfortable with the surroundings there, and the location is great; it's only about two hours from home, and people can see me play every Saturday."
Ultimately, it couldn't have worked out any better for Homan, a dominant two-way player for the Cavaliers. Last year alone, Homan was in on 200 tackles on defense and averaged over 6 yards a carry and had 8 rushing touchdowns on offense.
Definitely it's something that I've been dreaming about growing up," Homan said. "So I was pretty excited when it actually happened."
Homan started believing that he could earn a Division I scholarship to a school like Ohio State back in his freshman year at Coldwater when he was starting on defense for the varsity back then. He first became a two-way performer for the Cavaliers in his sophomore season.
"I love playing running back and linebacker," said the 6-1, 235 pound physical specimen. "But I know at the next level it's definitely going to be at linebacker."
In addition to his rather prodigious physical dimensions, Homan is fairly astute, both mentally and instinctively, as a linebacker as well.
"I'm able to read the play faster than most people can and I just react to the ball," he said. "And I make big hits."
And for as loud as he plays when he's on the field, Homan is the polar opposite of that off the field.
"I'm just a normal kid. I'm pretty humble and I just like to work hard and get things done," Homan said. "But I always try to be the best at what I'm doing, no matter what."
And he's obviously pretty good as one of the two middle linebackers in Coldwater's 4-2 alignment on defense. Homan has recorded over 500 tackles in his high school career at Coldwater thus far, and he's a two-time first-team All-Ohio linebacker already.
Yet, despite his prowess in the middle, Homan projects as an outside linebacker at the next level.
"I think I'll probably play the Will linebacker, the weak side linebacker, in college," he said. "I'll play wherever they want me to play, that's about it. I think I can adjust to playing any of the linebacker positions."
He was clocked at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Ohio State's camp last summer, and he has the same kind of nose for the football as A.J. Hawk, with whom he's already been favorably compared to.
"My speed and quickness are definitely the two biggest things that have really helped me out over the years," said Homan, who runs the 100 meter dash (11.6 seconds) on the school's track team and is a member of the 4x100 and 4x200 relay squads. "And the strength has just come along with it from lifting weights and working out."
Coldwater head John Reed says that Homan is a classic knee-bender on defense.
"Ross has the ability to bend his knees and deliver a blow," the coach said. "A lot of people can run, but then when they get there they don't do anything, and he can do it when he gets there. And he's highly intelligent and makes plays, he's an unbelievable play maker. It's just phenomenal to see the plays that he makes."
"And then when you meet him and you get a chance to get to know him, you can see why people would want to have him on their campus. Not only is he a great football player but he's a high quality person."
Homan certainly fits the mold of guys like Hawk and Bobby Carpenter and he obviously has a great deal of admiration for the current linebacking corps at OSU already.
"I watched those guys at a practice on (April 9) and I can't believe how fast and quick they are for how big they are," Homan said. "And they get after it. Even in practice, they're going 100 miles an hour the whole time. It's definitely a dream to be like A.J. Hawk, to be in his shoes."
So Homan, who boasts a 4.0 GPA in the classroom, knows that he'll have to continue to work hard to become the best player that he possibly can be when he gets to Ohio State.
"I've always tried to work hard, but you always know in the back of your mind that you'll be playing at the next level, so you always try to work even harder," he said.
But he first has some unfinished business to tend to before he ever steps a foot on the playing surface of Ohio Stadium.
"Right now, my senior season is probably the main point right now that I'm focused on," Homan said. "It's going to be my last year and I want to make it my best."
According to Reed, Homan is ready to accept the leadership challenge that is now expected of him in his senior season.
"He's already given us football stuff that is beyond your imagination, but he is stepping out now into a new realm for him, and that's being the leader," Reed said. "He's always kept himself back because he's always respected the upperclassmen, but now it's his turn and he knows that. So I think this is a very exciting year for him and for us."
Prior to the start of his senior season, Homan will attend the Nike camp in Ann Arbor in May and then Ohio State's senior camp in June.
"After my senior season is over, I'll be ready to suit up for the scarlet and gray," he said. "It won't be long now."
Ohio State fans are looking forward to it.