By coaching the Pickerington High School Central football program to its first state championship last fall, Jay Sharrett joined select company.
The only other coaches from central Ohio to have won Division I state titles are Darrell Mayne, who led Upper Arlington to the 2000 championship, and Brian White, who guided Hilliard Davidson to titles in 2006 and '09.
Entering his 16th season as Tigers coach and coming off a 14-1 season that was capped by a 56-28 victory over Mentor in the state final last December at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Sharrett also is one of four current coaches in the area who have won state championships regardless of division.
White, who enters his 20th season as Wildcats coach, also is in that group, as are Scott Wetzel and Brad Burchfield.
Wetzel, who left Westerville North during the offseason to become the coach at Delaware, guided Big Walnut to the Division III title in 2007. Burchfield is in his 11th season as coach at Hartley, which he led to Division IV championships in 2010, '15 and '16.
"Each year you learn from the year before," Sharrett said. "It doesn't matter if you made it to the state championship. It teaches you to put everything on the line the entire game, and you still might come up short. We pushed through and won that first state championship (last) year, but we've (lost in state finals in 2006 and '11) so we've made long runs (in the past)."
With the 2018 season fast approaching, ThisWeek checked in with each of the area's four title-winning coaches who remain on the sidelines to ask them to reflect on their championship experiences.
ThisWeek: What did it mean to you to win a state title?
Sharrett: I felt very gratified for our coaching staff because a lot of these guys have been here the entire time, the alums who kind of pushed us there, the amount of support those guys give. One thing we're very fortunate here is that a lot of alums want the next class to do well and to push through and win it for Tiger football overall, for our entire program overall. It was special for our student section because they've been wanting it, so (it was) nice for them, too.
Wetzel: At Big Walnut, it was such a neat experience because there's that community setting. Not just the players, but the school and community rallied around it. The players were treated like rock stars for a long time. That was kind of the neat thing about it. The guys I had had been to the playoffs before, so they were even keel. But when all was said and done, it was a pretty neat experience to have the community rally around us.
ThisWeek: What did you learn from the experience of winning the state title?
Burchfield: All the hard cliches are true. You have to get better through the season. You have to overcome adversity. You have to have great leadership and camaraderie. Your seniors have to have the best year of their career. These things every coach knows, but they're very difficult to teach and encourage and execute (and) they're the difference between beating the best people and being just like all the other pretty good teams. ... The other thing that sounds cliche is the kids better care for each other and the school, probably more than they love football.
White: Chemistry is as important as any factor when the talent level is relatively close. We were certainly not the most talented team either year in a couple of our playoff games. (Cincinnati) Colerain in '06 in the state semifinal game and (Cincinnati) Elder in the semifinal and (Cleveland) Glenville in the championship games of '09 are but a few examples of teams with a significant talent advantage over us. Our chemistry on both of those teams was off the charts and allowed us to stay in those games long enough to pull them out.
ThisWeek: How did winning a state title affect your perspective on coaching and high school football?
Burchfield: Once you have won a state championship, the legitimate expectations surrounding the program completely change. Your community expects to compete for the highest prize and, with anything short of that, there is a mild sense of disappointment. On the flip side of that, once you have won it all, the generations of players now have that legitimate expectation. They understand what it takes and they know the path to get there. In a way, the future becomes indebted to the championship past and see it as their responsibly to uphold those expectations. As coaches, we have kept perspective that we're going to focus on the very best we can be and deal with whatever comes from that.
Wetzel: The emphasis on doing the little things right and the emphasis on all the battles and what you do in the offseason and preseason are all relevant to your season. We did this, this and this in the offseason and that prepared us for success, but we had kids that bought into that. Those kids were determined, wanted it a little bit more and it was just a very unique group to coach. The following year, we won the region again and lost in a state semifinal. Coaching might be a little overrated, but we still had that team unity and bonding.
ThisWeek: What were some of the reasons your team finally was able to break through with a championship?
Sharrett: We've had some great playoff runs since (losing the state title in) '11, and (last) year no one got sick, no one got mono, there were no huge events. I know it sounds dumb, but one kid sneezes and the next thing you know five kids get mono. They were all giddy and happy, and that's just how they approached it. They stiffened their resolve at halftime of that state championship game, there's no doubt about that.
White: There is something to be said about kids growing up playing with each other. There's been a lot of teams over the years with exceptional talent that they 'acquired' through transfers who just haven't been able to take that next step. In both seasons, we won state championships without one transfer on our team.
ThisWeek: What was it like the year after you won a state title?
Wetzel: The year after we still had a lot of those guys back and they knew what it was about. A lot of it is the team aspect and unity and trusting each other, and those things are so valuable.
White: We certainly learned a lesson after the '06 season and what happened to us in '07. We didn't put an end to our underclassmen celebrating the accomplishments of the senior class before them. The result was an '07 team that was our last to not make the playoffs up until last year. We didn't make that mistake after the '09 season and followed that year up with a run all the way to (a) state semifinal.
ThisWeek: What advice do you have for coaches who continually knock on the door of winning state but haven't been able to do so yet?
White: We've never made it a goal of ours to win state championships. I listen to some coaches who make that their goal, and you have to question their egos. Our goal has always been to help our kids to achieve their maximum potential and be great people more than anything. When your kids work to reach those goals, I think you give yourself a better chance at going further than when your goal is to win a state championship.
Burchfield: Quit getting excited and hyping your team up January through August. So much about that doesn't matter. Everyone is undefeated in August and everyone feels great about their team, but in the end, you have to be your very best against the very best teams. No excuses. When you play really good people -- the best in Ohio -- your team has to find a way to win. Talk is cheap and hype season is really long, but there is no recruiting graphic or signing-day hype or bench-press record, cone drills, whatever is going to help you beat the really good teams. Hype is easy. Beating good people is really hard. ... The price is really high.
Wetzel: A lot of it is luck. ... We didn't have that true clear-cut team that was going to destroy everybody, but that thing about team, our kids never panicked, stuck together and to me that's a big piece of it. It's about your guys, and you can build so much team unity, but there's actually got to be something the kids do to bond with each other.