MARENGO – When Chase Carpenter was little, he would hit the road with his dad on Saturdays to go watch college football.
Chad Carpenter coached at Highland High School for 17 years, and plenty of his players went on to compete at the next level. The father-son duo traveled far and wide to watch former Scots play, and Chase was awestruck. He wanted to be there one day – on that big field, under those bright lights.
On Tuesday, he made that dream a reality.
Carpenter and two of his senior teammates, Ian Taylor and Joey Scaffidi, signed letters of intent to play college football. Carpenter and Taylor will attend Otterbein University, while Scaffidi signed with Walsh University.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Carpenter, donning a grey Otterbein t-shirt and grinning ear-to-ear. “I feel like the challenge is going to help me grow as a person, mentally, and hopefully physically as well.”
Carpenter, Taylor and Scaffidi were three of 15 seniors on last year’s roster. The class led Highland to back-to-back KMAC championships and playoff berths. Both Carpenter and Taylor played basketball as well, where they claimed an additional conference trophy this winter.
Chad Carpenter, who retired in December as the winningest football coach in Highland history, lauded the trio for their commitment to the program.
“I guess their overall approach to the game was special. Their toughness, their athleticism. You know, I’ve coached a lot of really good players over the years, and I think all three of these guys would fit right in that mold of those great kids,” Carpenter said.
“It’s on and off the field, too. They’re well-rounded individuals and I think the future’s going to be really bright for them.”
Scaffidi earned first-team Div. IV all-Ohio honors last fall as a defensive lineman. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound sledgehammer recorded 23 tackles and six sacks in his senior season. He also starred on Highland’s offensive line, where he paved the way for the conference’s most punishing rushing attack.
Matt Jones, Highland’s former o-line coach (and current head coach), commended Scaffidi for his improvement on the field and in the classroom over the last four years. Scaffidi said he “grew up a lot” during his time at Highland, as he learned how to take criticism and became more coachable.
Scaffidi will study business at Walsh; he believes such a versatile degree will set him up for more job opportunities down the road. On the gridiron, Scaffidi will assume a key role in the rebuilding process, as the Cavaliers are coming off of back-to-back four-win seasons.
“I just felt Walsh was the best fit for me campus-wise and what I wanted to major in,” the senior said. “I felt like they were going to give me the most for the next four years.”
Taylor transferred to Highland from Big Walnut before his senior year. While most might think of Taylor as the quarterback – who, in the wing-T offense, was more of a game manager than a gunslinger – he thrived as a defensive back. He earned first-team all-KMAC honors at the position last year, locking down playmakers in the open field by levying his above-average anticipatory skills.
“I always think I have really good field vision and I always call myself a little bit of a ball-hawk,” Taylor said with a grin. “My quarterback knowledge kind of gives me an idea of where the ball’s going before the quarterback even throws it, and I think that’s a really good attribute to have as a safety.”
Taylor said he fell in love with Otterbein’s proximity (located in Westerville), the football team’s “family-first attitude,” and the engineering program. He plans on majoring in mechanical engineering.
“I’ve always liked building things and knowing how things go together and stuff like that. Me and my dad have had a lot of talks about it, and he’s an environmental health and safety engineer, so he kind of has an engineering background,” Taylor said.
“So he kind of showed me engineering – didn’t really push me to it, but I felt that it was (what) would make me happy.”
Standing in front of family and friends in the school’s cafeteria on Tuesday, Taylor thanked everyone at the school for “making me feel welcome this year.” He said being a part of the football team “made all the difference” when it came to getting adjusted to a new school district.
Taylor has high hopes for his new home, where he’ll get to continue his football career just minutes away from his hometown.
“I’ve already met a couple of the guys through visits and met some of the guys around town, and they’re the nicest guys,” Taylor said. “They said four years of Otterbein football is just the best. You get to know a lot of people and you have a great time.”
Taylor is also excited about the idea of rooming with Carpenter next year.
“Having him is great because I have a roommate that I know and someone to go through freshman year with,” Taylor said. “It’s fantastic.”
While the two visited Otterbein together, they ultimately made their own decisions. Carpenter chose Otterbein for its proximity, but also for its nursing program. His mother has worked in the profession his whole life – first as a dialysis nurse, then as Highland’s school nurse – and Carpenter said he wants to follow in a similar path.
“I’ve always wanted to do something in the medical field,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed helping out people and stuff like that. I feel like nursing will give me that.”
Carpenter praised Otterbein for its small class sizes (just 2,300 students attend the school) and its successful nursing program; Carpenter said 100 percent of Otterbein’s nursing graduates pass the national exam afterwards.
He also likes the fit on the football field, where he will play in the Ohio Athletic Conference, just like his father (who played at Muskingum in the 90s). Carpenter and Taylor will try to help the Cardinals rebuild after a rare two-win season in 2018.
“I went on a lot of college visits, and the moment I went to Otterbein, it just felt right,” Carpenter said. “All the coaches seemed to want me to go there, they all knew my name. There’s a lot of local hospitals, too, so my nursing career should be impacted by that.”
Carpenter does not know which position he will play in college. In high school, he was an all-state offensive lineman. He graded 94 percent and recorded 19 pancake blocks last year at just 190 pounds. Carpenter used a lethal combination of speed and physicality to punish defenders on the edge. He started on the defensive line as well, tallying 27 tackles and three sacks last fall.
The senior said he will need to beef up before heading to Westerville for camp in August.
“I know for sure I’m going to have to put on a little bit of weight. I’m a little small right now for college football,” Carpenter said. “But wherever they want me, I’ll play.”
Like Scaffidi and Taylor, Carpenter said he will miss his playing days at Highland. He believes his senior class was successful because it shared a common hunger – a will to win.
“We’ve always been a really close-knit group of guys and we’ve shared a lot of great memories with each other – a lot of championships brought home, a lot of fun,” Carpenter said.
“So it meant a lot, graduating with those guys, just because they all had the same amount of commitment as I did and they all wanted to win just as bad as I did. I feel like all those guys made me who I am today.”