Last Friday night, their last under the lights of Spring Lake Park’s Panther Stadium, twin seniors Zach and Josh Ojile paused to reflect with their father, Mike.
Zach, the Panthers’ quarterback and career rushing leader, and Josh, a top offensive lineman, huddled up and felt the celebration of a 39-20 victory against Cooper and a trip to the Class 5A football tournament give way to sentiment.
“I said, ‘Guys, this is what you’ve been working for. This is how you wanted to finish your last home game,’ ” said Mike, who watched through the years as his boys’ love for sports led to hours in neighborhood backyards, time spent patching holes in basement walls and the indent in Zach’s room left by Josh’s shoulder and arm.
Last season an ankle injury sidelined Zach for the state tournament quarterfinal, and the Panthers fell 15-14 to St. Michael-Albertville, the eventual state champion.
Now at full strength, the Panthers (10-0) play Friday in the quarterfinals against Andover at Centennial High School. Hopes for their first state title since 1991 ride on Josh and the big boys blocking and Zach running the split back veer to perfection.
“We run right behind those guys,” Spring Lake Park coach Jeff Schlieff said.
Josh entered the world about a minute before Zach. Their older brother, Jake, helped forge the twins’ toughness by getting the better of them in baseball, basketball or football.
The twins developed together, with Josh as Zach’s center on elementary-school football teams.
“The most-run play by our offense was the quarterback sneak,” Zach said.
The twins grew into solid athletes, playing up a year in traveling basketball and becoming varsity football contributors as sophomores. Zach started as a running back and later moved to quarterback. Josh slid across the line to left tackle.
Zach still favors running behind Josh (6-2, 270 pounds). Called a “prototypical strong, silent type” by his father, Josh impresses with his work ethic.
“He always leaves the weight room with his shirt soaked in sweat,” Zach said.
Numbers help define Zach’s success. He is 22-0 as a starting quarterback. He boasts career totals of 462 carries for 3,610 yards. The twins celebrated many of his 44 touchdowns by leaping into each other.
“Nothing he does really surprises me,” Josh said. “He’s a phenomenal player.”
Zach is up for Gatorade Player of the Year and Mr. Football. Both brothers hope to play college football, maybe at the same school. But those plans can wait.
“I definitely appreciate what we’ve been able to do, but right now it’s just tunnel vision for Andover,” Josh said.