Igwebuike leading way for Pickerington North
The Pickerington High School North football team spent the non-league portion of its schedule trying to find the right balance for using its top two quarterbacks and fine-tuning a defense that it believed needed work.
The performances of senior Godwin Igwebuike proved to be a more than capable margin for error.
During the Panthers' 3-0 start, he has rushed for 685 yards and 10 touchdowns on 42 attempts for a 16.3-yard average.
Igwebuike, who ran for 1,046 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, is the first running back in program history to put together back-to-back games of at least 200 yards rushing. He made it three in a row in a 41-13 win over visiting Fremont Ross on Sept. 7 with 223 yards and four touchdowns on 15 attempts.
North plays host to Newark on Friday, Sept. 14, in its OCC-Ohio Division opener.
"He's special," coach Tom Phillips said. "There's no doubt he's a difference maker. His field vision is (great). I've never seen anyone with his field vision, his eyes."
Igwebuike is a distant cousin of former NFL running back Christian Okoye and also is related to former NFL kicker Donald Igwebuike. Despite that pedigree and the fact that he has verbally committed to Northwestern University, Igwebuike has been surprised by his start to the season.
His numbers have come despite the Panthers not having senior offensive lineman Chris Huhn, a Western Kentucky recruit who has been out with an injury. He is expected to return Sept. 21 when North plays at Lancaster.
"I've been working on my burst a lot this year, but I had no idea this would happen," Igwebuike said. "There are three things I go by, and that's trust God, believe in myself and play hard. It's been going great so far.
"We're feeling great to be 3-0. We wanted to prove to people in Ohio that we're ready to be among the best teams in Ohio."
Igwebuike's performance has helped to alleviate concerns Phillips has had about his defense.
Against Fremont Ross, North allowed 206 yards rushing and 89 yards passing, but only 8 yards came through the air during the second half. The Panthers led 34-13 at halftime and didn't allow a touchdown after the first quarter.
In addition, one of the Little Giants' scores came on a kickoff return.
Igwebuike, Roland Ladipo and Jordon Chambers all had interceptions and Igwebuike added a fumble recovery.
Dylan Weigel, a junior linebacker, was credited with seven solo and 13 assisted tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss against Fremont Ross.
"I know Godwin did what he did, but I was happy with our defense," Phillips said. "I was scared and nervous all week and (Fremont Ross) made plays. We had a spy on their quarterback (Tyler Wolf). You've got to keep him in check because he's a dual threat.
"We settled down and had a goal-line stand. We know we've got to be a better defensive football team in the OCC."
Senior Mason Olszewski, like Igwebuike, starts in the defensive backfield. He also is the team's No. 1 quarterback, although he has split time during the first three games with junior Zeph Miller.
Olszewski has rushed for 199 yards and one touchdown on 18 attempts and is 17-for-31 passing for 348 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Miller scored on a 9-yard touchdown run and completed three of his four passes against Fremont Ross for 85 yards. He is 10-for-19 passing for 149 yards and one touchdown on the season.
"Mason's a two-year starter at free safety and Zeph could be a starter," Phillips said. "Right now, it's hard to (tell Olszewski) that he can't take snaps. He's a captain. I'm not afraid to move quarterbacks in and out like some people are."