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."
Tennis team hoping
for better second half
With a 5-0 victory over Hamilton Township on Sept. 6, the girls tennis team snapped a four-match skid and earned its second win of the season.
The Raiders lost to Lancaster 5-0 on Sept. 7 to fall to 2-9 overall and finish 0-5 in the OCC-Ohio Division. Their other win, before playing Canal Winchester on Sept. 11, came Aug. 28 when they beat DeSales 3-2.
Against Hamilton Township, sophomore Hope Chaffin won at first singles, junior Sarah Hoffman won at second singles and junior Alexa Matan won at third singles. Also, junior Katelyn Whetsel and sophomore Abi Swift won at first doubles, and sophomores Hannah Dodley and Feaven Gebrezgi won at second doubles.
Sophomores Maelyn Cheng and Nia Harris have been other key players.
"Of the matches we have left, (most) of them should be ours," coach Les Somogyi said. "We play in a tough OCC, but from now it's (their) season."
On Sept. 9, the Raiders tied Granville for third (14) behind Watkins Memorial (32) and DeSales (21) in the eight-team Reynoldsburg Doubles Tournament.
"They've really not been giving up, and my biggest weapon might be first doubles," Somogyi said. "Whetsel and Swift have been working on this thing for six months."
Boys soccer team set
for Grove City test
The boys soccer team continues OCC-Ohio action Tuesday, Sept. 19, at home against Grove City in a rematch of a game it lost 5-1 last season.
The Greyhounds were 5-0-1 before opening league play Sept. 12 against Lancaster.
The Raiders were 3-1-3 after playing Hilliard Darby to a scoreless tie Sept. 7 and before opening league play Sept. 12 against Gahanna.
In a 4-1 loss to New Albany on Sept. 5, the game was tied at 1 at halftime. Nicholas Wallace scored and goalkeeper Gabe Philhower made 11 saves for Reynoldsburg.
In an 11-0 win over Newark on Aug. 29, Rubbin Jacobs had three goals and Ammar Abupakr, Obed Aidoo and Philhower all scored two.
Below are the coming schedules for the Reynoldsburg cross country, boys golf, boys soccer, girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball teams:
Sept. 16 -- Newark Invitational
Sept. 18 -- DeSales at Champions
Sept. 20 -- Newark at Moundbuilders
Sept. 16 -- At Dublin Scioto
*Sept. 19 -- Home vs. Grove City
Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Upper Arlington
*Sept. 19 -- At Grove City
Sept. 14 -- At Big Walnut
Sept. 15 -- Home vs. Westerville South
Sept. 19 -- At Westerville North
*Sept. 14 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
Sept. 18 -- At Westland
*Sept. 19 -- At Lancaster