AKRON, Ohio - When the undefeated St. Vincent-St. Mary football team (14-0) takes the field for the championship game on Thursday night, it will be a very emotional moment for one of the squad's quiet and cerebral leaders.
"This being my last high school football game, something really special to me, to have it in the state championship game is really just amazing," said Derek Whiddon, the 17-year-old starting right tackle.
Whiddon, a senior, is blessed with brains and brawn.
At 5'11" and 230 lbs., his job is to help move the offense down the field to score as many touchdowns as possible.
In the classroom, he's equally focused. He scored a 35 on his ACT, has a 4.5 GPA and is president of the National Honors Society.
"I'm kind of the nerd on the football team, but that's okay," he joked.
Whiddon is fascinated with government, and this past July, he was selected as one of only two boys to represent Boys Nation in Washington D.C., where he met President Obama.
"That was really exciting to be able to stand two feet from the most powerful person in the world," he said.
On Thursday afternoon, Whiddon was part of raucous pep rally inside the SVSM gymnasium.
Coaches and cheerleaders fired up the team before Whiddon read the Gospel to the student body.
Whiddon was part of last year's state championship team. If the squad defeats Trotwood-Madison (11-2) at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, it would be the first back-to-back state titles for the Fighting Irish since 1981 and 1982.
"To go out as repeat state champions would be just the culmination of all the hard work that we've put into the last four years," Whiddon said.
He credits his dad, an Akron detective, and his mom, a nurse at Akron Children's hospital, for giving him focus and drive.
He also said the SVSM teachers have been a great help when it come to balancing his academic and athletic success.
Whiddon hopes to attend Ohio State University and would like to study pre-law or political science.
"I could definitely see myself as some kind of judge."
Judging by his early accomplishments, few would doubt that Whiddon could do whatever he set his mind and body to do.