In his second year as a starting tight end and outside linebacker for the Westerville North High School football team, Rodney Van Cleaf exudes confidence.
But the 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior clearly remembers the Warriors' 2016 season opener, his first not only on offense but also as a linebacker after years as a defensive end.
"I had bubbles in the guts," Van Cleaf said, laughing. "I was nervous. I'd always been a defensive end and here I was trying something new. Now, I can't imagine not playing both (positions)."
With one game to go in his Warriors career, Van Cleaf is the team's top receiver and its second-best tackler. He has caught 18 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown, and at linebacker has 35 total tackles -- tied with lineman K.J. King behind linebacker Greg Shehee's 46 stops -- and 5.5 tackles for loss. More than half of Van Cleaf's tackles, 19, have been solo.
North is 2-7 overall and 0-4 in the OCC-Buckeye Division entering its season finale Friday, Oct. 27, at Olentangy Liberty.
"I consider myself a dual threat and an athlete. I want to be able to contribute both ways," Van Cleaf said. "They like me a lot in the passing game, but I have some talent both ways. I feel like I'm better at receiving than blocking. Last year, I preferred defense but this year, I am feeling it going both ways. If I had to pick one, I guess prefer defense a little bit more. I love hitting."
Van Cleaf immediately jumped out to coach Scott Wetzel when he took over in January 2016.
"He's the kind of kid that when you get old like me and you look back, you remember guys like him," Wetzel said. "He plays with a motor. He plays hard. He doesn't wear out. He'd play special teams for us if he had to. After the game, he is exhausted. There's nothing left in the tank."
Van Cleaf, who said Capital, Marshall, Muskingum, Morehead State, Ohio Wesleyan, Thomas More, West Virginia State and Wilmington all have expressed interest in him for college football, also is an Eagle Scout. After seven years in the Boy Scouts, he completed his Eagle Scout certification Oct. 7 and 8 by laying gravel on an approximately 1-mile portion of a trail at Spruce Run Environmental Education Center near Hoover Dam.
"Since Boy Scouts is such a leadership-oriented thing, it's given me so many better tips about how to lead people and become better as a man," Van Cleaf said.
North gave up 31 points in the second quarter Oct. 20 and lost to Olentangy 48-14.
Liberty is 7-2 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Buckeye, having clinched at least a share of the league championship with a 25-24 win over Olentangy Orange on Oct. 20. The Patriots scored the final 19 points of the game, including a 2-yard touchdown run by Matt Webb with 32 seconds left, to hand the Pioneers their first loss of the season.
North is 0-6 all-time against Liberty.