The celebration after the Pickerington High School Central football team won its first state championship didn't truly get rolling until the final players and coaches trickled into the locker room following the postgame press conference Dec. 1.
The smiles got a little wider, the laughter a bit louder, after a 56-28 victory over Mentor at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton.
Enjoying the moment after their 31-14 victory over Pickerington North in the Division I, Region 3 final Nov. 17 at DeSales was the No. 1 focus as coaches and players posed for pictures with cheerleaders, teammates and fans before being told it was time to pack up and head for home.
After winning the state title, the Tigers really could let loose, celebrating a journey that seemingly took much longer than a two-hour bus ride to Canton or even a season.
The school has had much to be proud of over the years, rewinding back to 1985 when it was known as Pickerington and its girls basketball team won its first of six state titles over a 15-year span, and including when its boys cross country and softball programs won state championships in 1997.
Since the school district split before the 2003-04 school year, Central won a boys basketball state title in 2012 and had been close numerous times in football, finishing as state runner-up in 2006 and 2011.
The current Tigers' team will be remembered as one with college-caliber players throughout its lineup, with Xavier Henderson and Trenton Gillison heading to Michigan State, Alex Morgan committing to Toledo and Jeremiah Wood being a sure-fire Division I prospect as well.
This season also was a breakout year for another player with a bright future in sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw.
The Central teams that fell short of the state title had high-end talent, too.
The 2006 squad had perhaps the greatest running back to come through the program in Jordan Jarrell, who rushed for 2,185 yards and 28 touchdowns that season, as well as future collegians such as Brian Peters (Northwestern) and Chazz Anderson (Cincinnati).
In 2008, the Tigers had a pair of players who would go on to play for Ohio State in Jamie Wood and Zach Boren, but their season ended in a state semifinal.
In 2011, Jacoby Boren, who also would go on to play for Ohio State, was a senior and current Dallas Cowboys player Taco Charlton was a junior.
None of the players from the 2006, 2008 and 2011 squads had a physical hand in this year's title team, but the same can't be said for what they've helped provide from an emotional perspective.
"This is a reward for Chazz Anderson, Brian Peters, (2005 graduate) Shane Bowen, players like them who came up short," coach Jay Sharrett said. "Our guys really cherish when our alums come to practice. Taco Charlton was on the sidelines (Dec. 1). It's weird because they have such a strong connection with each other. ... We've got two runner-up trophies also, and I'm pretty proud of those teams, and I know those guys helped us get to that level."
Being in two previous state finals helped Sharrett and his veteran coaching staff know how to prepare the current players for the latest game-day experience.
From a philosophical standpoint, though, the groundwork was laid long ago.
One thing Sharrett continually reminds his freshmen, sophomores and juniors is that their goal should be to help the current senior class end their prep careers on top, or as close to the top as possible.
The Tigers are proof that unselfishness is a great foundation on which to build a championship football program.