Big brother meets little brother in a literal sense when the Olentangy Liberty High School football team plays Friday, Oct. 20, at Orange.
Both teams are 3-0 in the OCC-Buckeye Division and seeking playoff points in Division I, Region 2, but for a pair of assistant coaches, there's an added dimension to this sister-school rivalry. The Sansbury brothers are about to square off for the first time on opposing sidelines.
Liberty defensive line coach John Sansbury will look across the field and see his younger brother, Chris, who coaches Orange's defensive linemen. Both are Liberty graduates -- John in 2005 and Chris in 2007.
"This is the first time we will be across from each other because when one of us was coaching at one level the other would be coaching another," John said. "There will probably be a handshake before the game, but we'll be too busy to notice until after the game. That's probably when it will sink in."
The Sansburys played for Liberty's Steve Hale, who has been the program's only head coach. Orange coach Zebb Schroeder was a high school assistant for the brothers.
The Patriots hold a 6-1 edge in the series, including five consecutive wins. Last fall, Liberty won 20-13 in two overtimes during the regular season and 24-17 in the first round of the playoffs. John was coaching the Liberty defensive line, but Chris was coaching at Orange Middle School.
"John and I played football, basketball and baseball throughout high school," Chris said. "He's two years older than me and I was always chasing him down to be with him and his friends. You know, it was the little brother thing. I'm sure it got on his nerves."
John does recall those feelings.
"We would always fight growing up until my senior year and his sophomore year when he was playing varsity in a couple sports," John said. "That's when we started to become more friends. He would come out and hang with my buddies after the j.v. game, watch football and eat pizza. He was just one of the guys at that point, but he probably got more beat-downs than he needed growing up."
"There were a lot of 'learning opportunities,'" Chris said.
The Pioneers hope they have learned a few things to help solve Liberty. They are 8-0 overall, but have not beaten the Patriots since a 22-8 victory in 2011.
Orange was projected to be second in Region 2 this week and Liberty was projected to be fifth. The top eight teams make the playoffs.
The Pioneers are coming off a 35-10 league win over Westerville Central on Oct. 12. Graham Starn rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, and Jack Applegate had 106 yards and one score on 17 attempts.
"They play a physical game, they are tough and they like to run the ball," said John, who teaches freshman history and world religions at Liberty. "They pretty much were able to do whatever they wanted (against Central).
"We're a little smaller than they are, so we have to stay low and use our technique. It will be a tough challenge."
The Patriots improved to 6-2 overall by defeating Olentangy 28-17 on Oct. 13 in league play. Mitchell Okuley was 11-for-18 passing for 216 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Johnny Wiseman rushed 11 times for 91 yards and had four receptions for 95 yards and one score.
"It will be a tough challenge because they have excellent perimeter play and a top-notch quarterback," said Chris, who is an intervention specialist at Orange Middle School. "It will take a mountain of an effort to stop them.
"You can see how balanced they are on film. Johnny Wiseman is as good as they come from a football standpoint. We have to get lined up, communicate and continue to get our one-eleventh part from each individual."
The brothers had their own ideas as to where their parents, Hugh and Cathy Sansbury, will sit during the game.
"We're not sure where they will sit or what colors they will wear, but both of their sons did graduate from Liberty," John said.
"But their favorite son coaches at Orange, so they probably will sit there," Chris said.
The brothers agree their meeting at the j.v. game Saturday, Oct. 14, might be more of a personal showdown.
"The Saturday j.v. game will be the time when I can yell something across the field and he'll hear it," John said. "It seems that j.v. is sometimes a mix of organized football and backyard football, so we'll see how that goes. That's when things might get fun."