FOREST PARK, Ohio — Winton Woods senior offensive lineman Dru Thompson is leaving nothing to chance.
He's savoring every moment with his teammates during this state championship game journey to Canton.
"Honestly, for the past few weeks it's like every picture I take, I'm saving it," Thompson said. "I'm putting it somewhere – I'm saving it on my phone, I'm saving it somewhere in the house. I want to remember these moments the rest of my life, the things I've done to be a part of this community, part of this team."
The anticipation continues to rise toward Thursday night's Division II state final between Winton Woods (12-3) and Akron Archbishop Hoban (11-3) at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Winton Woods is in its third state final appearance and the first since it was a state runner-up to Hoban in 2017. Hoban, a five-time state champion, is making its seventh consecutive state final appearance.
"They're a great program and they've stood the test of time here in the last seven years," Winton Woods coach Chad Murphy said. "They've done enough right over the years to consistently get here. We know what we're up against. But, I do believe that inside this locker room, inside our doors here in Forest Park, Winton Woods High School, that we believe that the key, no matter what week it is and what the game is riding on, if we take care of us we're going to be OK."
That mentality has worked well for Winton Woods throughout the season, even when the team started with a 1-2 record. The team eventually found its identity.
"One day it was like everybody lit a fuse in themselves," Thompson said. "It was like, 'You know we can't take this anymore.' We were tired of feeling bad for ourselves. We were tired of people telling us we were this or that. We wanted to prove everybody wrong."
As November concludes and the lights have to be turned on early at Charlie Fredrick Stadium during practice, players and coaches are grateful to be together on the field before making the long trip to Stark County.
"It's been real special, because I've been playing with my teammates for a long time," said senior defensive end Jayron Gibson, who has 14 sacks.
Junior KC Spears has played football with Thompson since they were 8 years old. Thompson always knew what his friend was capable of on the field.
Spears, who scored five touchdowns against La Salle in the regional semifinal, has played quarterback, wide receiver, running back, punter, punt returner and has been a holder on point-after attempts.
"I put my heart and soul into this team," Spears said. "I love them so much. I couldn't ask for anyone better to play with."
Football played a significant role in his life after Spears said his cousin was killed before the season. Spears is inspired by his late cousin and prays before and after the games, win or lose.
"He's just such a great kid," Murphy said. "I don't know if there is a more selfless guy in this program. We've got a lot of selfless kids who put the team in front of themselves. "
This week, Spears and his teammates will add the final chapter to their memorable journey in Canton. No one seems to be in any hurry.
"I don't want it to end," Murphy said. "I want it to end with a trophy – you know raising the trophy. But I don't want it to end. This has been a great group. Like I said, I want to hoist that trophy. But I don't want it to end because of the relationships on this staff and in this football program. Win, lose or draw, it's going to be sad because this is our last week together as a team and it's a big deal. We're going to give it all we got. I can guarantee you that."