As he prepares to step onto the field for Gahanna Lincoln High School football games, Jonathan Harrington writes the letters "FINAO" on tape that he wraps around his right wrist.

The acronym, which means "Failure is not an option," is a mantra that the senior, who has developed into one of the Lions' top defensive players, tries to live by.

That goes for on the field, where despite being in just his second season with the program he has helped Gahanna become a playoff contender in Division I, Region 2, as well as off it.

After growing up in Chicago, where he had his life turned upside down by tragedy, Harrington's resilience has shined through as he has adjusted to moving to central Ohio so he could take strides toward his dream of playing collegiately.

"I lost three of my friends in Chicago over a span of three months in my freshman year," Harrington said. "A lot of it was gang violence, hanging out with the wrong crowds, retaliation. That's what's helped me as a player to be stronger. Early on I learned how to handle certain things."

This fall, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Harrington has joined junior Karter Johnson to give the Lions a pair of talented playmakers at defensive end.

Gahanna improved to 6-3 overall and 2-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division by beating Grove City 62-35 on Oct. 20 and closes the regular season Thursday, Oct. 26, at Pickerington North.

The Panthers moved to 7-2 overall and 3-1 in the league after beating Lancaster 56-28 on Oct. 20 and are projected to have clinched a playoff spot in Division I, Region 3.

Harrington has 25.5 tackles and a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss.

He lived in Gahanna as an eighth-grader, moved back to Chicago for his freshman year and then returned to Gahanna as a sophomore, although he didn't play football that season.

"(The move back to Gahanna) was for the best," Harrington said. "Chicago didn't really focus on football and I made a promise to a friend that I'd go to college for free. I'm not a 4.0 student so I can't go to college off of my grades. ... I got five offers (last) summer (to play college football).

"I had to get out of that environment (in Chicago). I've been to Chicago public schools where sometimes it's 90 degrees outside and you don't have air conditioning in the school. You have to go through a metal detector every morning, take your belt off, shoes, like you're in an airport every single morning. It was culture shock kind of (because) Gahanna's nice. For me it was kind of like a new life."

Harrington played sparingly early last season, but in Week 9 during a 34-0 victory over Grove City, he returned a fumble for a touchdown.

He's been locked into a key role ever since.

"We got him going late last year," coach Bruce Ward said. "He picked up some offers in the offseason. He and Karter Johnson have played well up front."

Among the schools that have shown interest in Harrington are Ohio Dominican, Tiffin, Notre Dame College, Lake Erie, Urbana, Virginia State and Wheeling Jesuit, but he's hoping his strong senior season will bring more offers over the coming months.

From a physical perspective, he reminds some in the program of former star defensive lineman and 2016 graduate Jonathon Cooper, who is now playing for Ohio State.

Harrington put on about 30 pounds of muscle and participated in a series of camps during the past offseason to prepare him for this season and beyond.

"Coming off of last year where I only played five games, no one really knew my name," Harrington said. "I came here on a mission. We have a bright future here. Coach Ward does a great job of just building the program up."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek