All-Decade Super 25 Football Team: Two-time state champion Demeatric Crenshaw earns top spot

JARROD ULREY
julrey@thisweeknews.com
Demeatric Crenshaw led Pickerington Central to a 39-5 record in three seasons as the Tigers' starting quarterback, including Division I state championships in 2017 and 2019.

The final five members of the "All-Decade Super 25 Football Team" come from throughout the field.

There are a pair of defensive standouts whose best playing days could still be ahead, a running back who got even better in college and another running back who turned into a record-breaker.

The No. 1 athlete on this all-decade team led his program to the pinnacle of his sport in two of the last three seasons, with his best performances coming when it meant the most.

In step with how we have honored central Ohio's best since 1993, this five-part series recognized 25 players who competed for schools in the ThisWeek coverage area, consisting of Franklin County and parts of Fairfield and Delaware counties.

The series began July 9 with Nos. 21-25 and continued July 16 with Nos. 16-20, July 23 with Nos. 11-15 and July 30 with Nos. 6-10.

Here is the top five:

No. 1

Demeatric Crenshaw

Crenshaw was only thinking about what had to be done when he took the snap on fourth-and-10 and his team trailing by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati Elder in last year's Division I state championship game.

"We had to get (a first down) or it was going to be a turnover," he said.

What happened was a career-defining play for the Pickerington Central quarterback. Crenshaw nearly was sacked by a trio of defenders and then was on the verge of being taken down by two other pass-rushers, but he managed to stay on his feet and find Justin Canini near the sideline for a 12-yard completion to keep the drive going.

It was so breathtaking that breaking down what took place during that play almost takes away from the beauty of it.

"Just that escape thing to hit Canini for the big first down, it was just a testimony to his athleticism," coach Jay Sharrett.

It meant so much more at the time considering the Tigers continued down the field for a game-tying touchdown and completed the march to their second state title in three seasons when Crenshaw connected with Lorenzo Styles Jr. for a 49-yard touchdown and a 21-14 win.

One play or even one game didn't earn the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Crenshaw the No. 1 spot on the "All-Decade Super 25," but it provides an exclamation point for a three-year starter whose teams went a combined 39-5 with two state titles.

Proving to be the perfect hybrid for Central's unflashy but effective offense, Crenshaw passed for 1,693 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushed for 1,267 yards and 17 scores last fall.

His coming-of-age moment, when the Tigers beat Mentor 56-28 in the 2017 state final, was equally as memorable.

In that game, Crenshaw rushed 24 times for 161 yards and set a Division I state final record with six touchdown runs to lead Central to its first state title after two previous state runner-up finishes.

Between those titles, the Youngs-town State recruit led Central to a state semifinal finish in 2018.

"There's definitely something special about that kid," offensive lineman Brody Egan said of Crenshaw after the 2017 state final.

No. 2

Xavier Henderson

As Pickerington Central's games got bigger during Henderson's senior season in 2017, it became almost impossible to keep him off the field.

He seemed to be everywhere during the Tigers' state champion-ship run.

In addition to being the area's top defensive back for the second year in a row, he returned the opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown during a 45-8 win over Gahanna in Week 6.

Two weeks later, he produced a 44-yard touchdown reception to give Central a two-touchdown lead on its way to a 24-21 victory over Pickerington North.

When the Tigers faced North again for the Division I, Region 3 title, Henderson delivered an interception in the 31-14 victory.

He returned an interception 39 yards a week later to help ice a 41-28 victory over Cincinnati Colerain in a state semifinal.

The 56-28 state title win over Mentor might be most remembered for Crenshaw's performance, but Henderson did a lot of the dirty work out of the backfield even though he spent most of that season as part of a running-back-by-committee approach.

The speed that helped Henderson earn a scholarship to Michigan State was on full display as he rushed for 154 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries in addition to contributing five tackles on defense.

Henderson, who had seven interceptions while earning first-team all-state honors as a junior when the Tigers were state semifinalists, finished with four interceptions and was named state co-Defensive Player of the Year as the Tigers went 14-1.

Henderson was already on the college recruiting radar and a starter by his sophomore season. Now, he seems to be on a path toward stardom with the Spartans, already with 98 career tackles at safety and with two seasons ahead of him.

No. 3

Daniel Bangura

It's not easy interpreting what Bangura did during his career at Harvest Prep.

He showed what he was capable of when he rushed for 1,423 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore while splitting time between quarterback and running back.

Then as a junior in 2016, he totaled 57 touchdowns, including 54 on the ground, while rushing for 4,128 yards. He averaged 295 yards rushing and four touchdowns per game.

To put that in perspective, Pickerington Central had eight games during its state championship run last fall when it scored four touchdowns or fewer.

One could choose to dismiss what Bangura did by pointing out that Central is in Division I while Harvest Prep is a Division VII program that won eight games in 2016 against teams in the state's smallest division.

But think about it like this: Bangura was asked to do a particular job -- run the football to the best of his ability -- week after week for two seasons, and it's tough to argue that he could have done it any better.

Everybody has a bad game, even Bangura. During a 48-7 loss to Warren John F. Kennedy in a 2016 state semifinal, he was held to 84 yards and one touchdown.

That performance still would sting a year later when he reflected on what had motivated him heading into his senior year.

Those games, of course, were the exception in his historic career.

He proved during his senior season in 2017 that there wasn't some extenuating circumstance that helped him reach those record-setting junior numbers, as he rushed for 3,401 yards, totaled 52 touchdowns and added 11 two-point conversions.

"Let me tell you for anyone to do what he's done for two to three years, nobody would believe what he does in the offseason," coach Milan Smith said after Bangura's senior season. "There's his diet regimen, and you're talking about a kid who chooses to keep his mind clean. He's matured off the field."

He remains Ohio's all-time leader in rushing yards (9,650), touchdowns (133) and rushing scores (124) -- a career that needs no disclaimer.

No. 4

Benny Snell

This running back had grand designs heading into his final prep season at Westerville Central in 2015.

After rushing for 2,077 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2014 when the Warhawks went 11-2 and were Division I regional runners-up, Snell told The Columbus Dispatch that his goal heading into that season was to "come out and go for 3,000 yards."

He soon got a different perspective on his situation when he realized how much talent was around him.

"I didn't need to carry the team," Snell said. "A lot of people stepped up and played a big role in our success."

There was certainly nothing wrong with Snell setting a goal that might seem unattainable because it spoke to how much confidence he had.

He likely would have at least surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season if not for a badly sprained ankle late in the regular season, as he settled for 1,826 yards while adding 27 receptions for 264 yards and finishing with 29 touchdowns as Central went 10-2. Snell was named the district's Offensive Player of the Year.

"Any offensive lineman would love to block for Benny," former Central coach John Magistro said in 2014. "His toughness and work ethic in practice inspires all to emulate his approach."

The love that teammates and fans showed Snell didn't stop when he got to Kentucky.

When he was playing for the Wildcats, ESPN's College GameDay put together a profile video of Snell titled "Benny Snell Jr. is the most interesting man in CFB."

He would leave the Wildcats with numerous program records, including rushing yards (3,873) and touchdowns (48), and his star figures to continue rising in the NFL.

In his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers last fall, Snell rushed for 426 yards and two touchdowns after being picked in the fourth round of the 2019 draft.

No. 5

Zach Harrison

There might not have been a more unusual battle to get inside the mind of a central Ohio recruit than what took place with Harrison throughout 2017 and 2018.

In this era of social media and websites devoted to college recruiting, it seemed like every other week someone wrote a story trying to figure out where Harrison eventually would go to school after leaving Olentangy Orange.

Most of the writers just wanted to find out what he was thinking, which was a chore in itself because he seemed to divulge so little, sometimes coming across as disinterested in the attention he was receiving.

But, oh, was it warranted.

Harrison was considered a five-star prospect -- the rarest of the rare, the ones who keep coaches up at night because of their combination of size, speed and skills -- when he committed to Ohio State after his 2018 senior season.

He was 6-6 and 245 pounds, the perfect size for a defensive end, but also fast enough to compete on sprint relays at the Division I state track and field meet as a junior.

As far as the talking was concerned, he did all of that and more on the field.

Harrison recorded 11 tackles for loss and five sacks as a sophomore in 2016 to help the Pioneers begin a run of four consecutive playoff berths.

He scored four touchdowns at tight end and finished with 18.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2017.

Harrison missed three games with a leg injury as a senior but still managed 16 tackles for loss and 21 receptions while seeing time at tight end and wide receiver.

Consider all those physical abilities and throw in his humility, and it's easy to see why he's been such a fascination.

"I was really bad (when I first started playing)," Harrison said in 2018. "I was the biggest guy there, but I was terrible. ... I'm fast and long and powerful, too, but there are things I still have to work on."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek