"Columbus kids don't know about Wilmington." – Tre'Quez Parks
"If we start a trend that Columbus kids can follow, the better it will be for them and for Wilmington's football program," Parks said.
The three recalled Parks being the first to commit to playing for the Fightin' Quakers.
"Tre committed first," Barrett remarked as the other two chuckled. "Tavion and I were still weighing our options. Coach Filli [Associate Head Coach Corey Fillipovich] kept on texting me."
Fillipovich's persistence was also noted by Bryant.
"Coach Filli was there the entire time. He kept on communicating with me, and I kinda liked him."
Upon constant contact with Fillipovich, Bryant took a visit to campus. It was there that Head Coach Bryan Moore sold him on becoming a Quaker.
"If you go to a school that has a history of success, you get remember for not winning a championship, Moore told him. "If you come here, you'll get remembered for winning and competing for a championship."
Barrett, alongside his mother, also had a conversation with Moore.
"Coach really emphasized how you have the opportunity to create stepping stones for others," said Barrett. "It was a challenge I was willing to accept, especially coming from a high school program that had a lot of success."
The three Columbus boys weren't always together. Bryant was in the Brookhaven School District before the city announced the district would be shut down in 2014 due to declining population. Bryant enrolled in the Beechcroft School District shortly afterward.
"Once the two schools merged, Beechcroft became a powerhouse," Bryant remembers. "The coaching staff came over, and the consistency of success continued."
The Beechcroft Boys enjoyed postseason appearances throughout their high school careers including a trip to regionals that resulted in a narrow loss to eventual state champions Steubenville High School. The three would taste some success as freshman at Wilmington, including winning their first collegiate game 49-20 over rival Earlham College. After that, however, the Quakers sputtered to a 1-8 Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) record.
Despite the couple of victories, the other snapping a lengthy OAC losing skid by defeating Capital University 37-30 in overtime on Homecoming Weekend, Barrett, Bryant and Parks all realized how far the program needed to go.
"I didn't believe it until I felt it," said Barrett. "After losing that first OAC game, I realized how real Coach's words were. This is a program that needs to be rebuilt."
"As the losses built up, I was humbled, but also began to question whether I was cutout for this," Barrett continued.
As the calendar turned to the fall of 2018, the Beechcroft Boys all found themselves starting. Additionally, the three found themselves in leadership rolls due to a large senior class, which was recruited by the previous coaching staff, departing the program due to graduation.
"All three of us really began making noise from the start," Parks said. "The more we led, the more our teammates started believing and following."
The 2018 saw the program take steps forward in competitiveness, but those steps forward did not turn into victories. Wilmington did defeat Earlham once again in the opener (the Quaker school from Richmond would suspend its football program following that season), but did not achieve a win in OAC play despite narrow losses to Muskingum University, nationally-ranked Baldwin Wallace University and Otterbein University.
"Our sophomore year was tough for me because I wasn't handling things outside of football, and that affected football," Bryant said. "It felt like no matter how hard I we were playing, we were always losing."
Parks, who earned Second Team All-OAC honors with an even 100 tackles on the season, had a slightly different take on the 2018 season.
"In my eyes, it's good to lose early while you're rebuilding a program," he said. "Losing is never comfortable, and despite how tough those nine games were, we started to focus on the progress and improvement each game."
Losing early would continue into 2019 as the Quakers dropped a hard-fought, season-opener 20-17 to Olivet College (Michigan), which were go on to win its first six games.
"We started 1-0 the previous year, and our thought was we would start that way again," Barrett said of the narrow defeat. "That defeat humbled us while at the same time continued to drive us as we could taste it."
Wilmington then fell at Heidelberg University in the OAC opener in a game that felt similar to 2018 with the Quakers playing a competitive first half and not being about to hang on in the second. Wilmington was now sitting 0-2 and welcomed Ohio Northern University (ONU) to Williams Stadium the following week. This game would end up being the breakthrough game the Beechcroft Boys, and the rest of the team, was working towards.
Parks remembers a great week of practice leading up to the game.
"There was a completely different type of energy for our defense that week," he said. "People were loose, dancing, yet really focused. Everyone forgot the Heidelberg loss and locked in on ONU."
The stadium filled up to capacity on a gorgeous Southwest Ohio afternoon that was also Homecoming Weekend for the College.
"I didn't execute at all at Heidelberg and felt like our defense got gashed because of me," Bryant said. "It was a great environment, and it gave me a great feeling before and during the game."
From the opening kickoff, the Wilmington offense couldn't be stopped. The Quakers scored touchdowns on their first four drives. Kyle Barrett scored with his feet on the first and found Itika Wynn Jr. and Luke Richardson for the next two. The Polar Bears, who scored on their first drive, added a field goal midway through the second quarter to get within 11, but Gino Hinton scampered 65 yards for a score three plays later, giving WC a 28-10 lead.
"I had great preparation that week," Barrett recalled. "After being in the red zone seven times the previous week and only coming away with 10 points, we were determined to execute and put the ball in the end zone."
ONU would regain the lead late in the fourth quarter and need a couple of first downs to ice the game. The Polar Bears got one and looked for a second after a big run on 1st-and-10, but Bryant shot the gap and made a tackle for loss setting up a big third down.
"That was a big moment for me and Coach Filli," said Bryant. "Coach called my number, and I made the tackle. On the very next play, Ameer Jackson came up and made a huge open-field tackle."
That gave the Quakers' the ball back, down 38-35 with 89 yards to go and just over two minutes to play. The final drive, which was kept alive by a Barrett scramble on 4th-and-1, will be remember by Wilmington fans for a long time. Barrett would connect with Itika Wynn Jr. over the middle for the game-winning touchdown, securing the program's first win over ONU since 1956.
A rough patch followed against some of the OAC's best teams, but the Beechcroft Boys kept the moral of the team high, and it paid off on the final home game of the season as Wilmington defeated Capital University 41-34. That would have been enough for a successful campaign, but Barrett, Bryant and Parks wanted more. They wanted not only to win an OAC road game for the first time in a dozen years, but to do it in their hometown of Columbus.
A rather routine first half saw Wilmington up 13-7, but the second half, and in particular the fourth quarter, would be anything but routine. Otterbein led 14-13 after 45 minutes, but Barrett connected with Luke Richardson for a 76-yard touchdown. The Cardinals answered on the next drive, however, and thanks to a missed extra point from the Quakers in the first half, led 21-20.
Barrett moved the Quakers' offense down the field into Otterbein territory, but a second interception was returned for a touchdown. The Cardinals, up 27-20, elected to go for two and win the game.
"We all looked at the score and knew they were trying to end the game right there," Parks said. "We knew what they were going to run. It was the same play we'd practice the whole week. At that point, it was just about all 11 of us doing our jobs."
The play itself, a run, had a similar result to ONU's run a couple months before. Bryant shot through and made the tackle, keeping the contest a one-possession game. Coincidentally, the final drive also ended like the ONU game. Barrett drove the team down the field and found Wynn Jr. for a touchdown.
Similar to Otterbein, Moore elected to keep his offense on the field and go for the win. The game-winner? You guessed it – Barrett to Wynn Jr.
"We've run that play in practice, but I've been hesitant to fully fake as I know someone is coming off the edge at me," Barrett said. "I saw a quick little zone and somehow fit that ball in there. I had to make a play."
The Beechcroft Boys have and a "TUFF" three years, echoing Coach Moore's montra of "TUFF Street". Through those testing times, however, the program has improved dramatically, thanks in large part to the play and leadership of Barrett, Bryant and Parks. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has moved their senior seasons to the spring, but for those three, it's just another hurdle they are anxious to get over.