The past two-plus years have included some life-changing moments for Elijah Ratliff.
Now a senior for the Reynoldsburg High School football team, Ratliff has been wearing No. 56 as a way to honor his cousin, Phil Ratliff, who was an assistant coach for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte when he died Aug. 9, 2015.
Elijah got another chance to follow in the footsteps of both Phil and his father, Bill Ratliff, when he committed June 21 to play for Marshall.
While his father played for Kentucky, Phil was a two-time All-American at Marshall who went on to serve as an assistant with the Thundering Herd as well as Charlotte.
Also during that same time frame, Elijah grew an inch, put on more than 40 pounds of muscle and attended multiple camps to help him realize his dream of playing in college.
"I've always loved football," he said. "I work out with my dad mainly. I got a lot stronger in the weight room and this year it was just me growing into my body."
The Raiders have been the beneficiaries of the emotional and physical growth that Ratliff has undergone since he became a key player as a sophomore.
After seeing time mostly on the offensive line in 2015 and sometimes seeing action at defensive end and linebacker last season when he finished with 47 tackles, Ratliff has settled into a defensive tackle role this fall.
He was credited with 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a half sack in a 15-13 loss to New Albany on Aug. 24 and followed with nine tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss in a 34-0 win over St. Charles on Sept. 1.
The Raiders beat Olentangy 31-7 on Sept. 8 and play host to Central Crossing on Friday, Sept. 15, for a rematch of a game they won 55-14 last season. Ratliff had a sack and 4.5 tackles against the Comets last season.
Against Olentangy, he had 6.5 tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss.
"He's a very explosive lineman," coach Buddy White said. "I'm real proud of him. Things are working out for him because of his hard work and dedication to what we're trying to do, and he represents everything we're looking for out of a Reynoldsburg football player in the classroom, in the community and on the football field. It doesn't surprise me because he's a very dominant football player, and I love him dearly."
Ratliff, who is considered a three-star recruit by Scout.com, chose Marshall from a list of eight offers that included several schools from the Mid-American Conference.
Among those joining Ratliff on the line are senior Jomanee Harris and junior Jay Amburgey, while senior Mikah Jeffery and juniors Dezman Cooper and Keshun Moore have led the linebacker corps.
Cooper has been offered by Miami University and Amburgey has been receiving college interest as well.
Several other members of the defense, according to Ratliff, have put on significant muscle since the end of last season.
"Our defensive line is strong," he said. "A team (heading into Sept. 8 hadn't) scored against us in seven quarters. We've been trying to re-amp since New Albany when we had a few minor issues and a lot of penalties killed us. (St. Charles) almost scored three times on us, but when they got closer to the red-zone area, our team just turned it on.
"Our team's really good. Our team has been really good at pass protecting. With the team we have now we're stacked up enough that we should be able to compete with anybody."