When second-ranked Oregon and fourth-ranked Ohio State meet in Monday’s inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, history will be made.
After years of the BCS running the show in college football, and creating plenty of controversies and hypotheticals year after year, a true champion will be crowned Monday night at the conclusion of the first College Football Playoff.
Big Ten Conference champion Ohio State faces the daunting task of trying to slow down Oregon’s fast-paced no huddle offense and Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
On the other side, Oregon must figure out a way to stop an Ohio State offense that just ran all over the 12th-ranked defense in the country in a 42-35 win over top-ranked Alabama in the semifinal game on Jan. 1 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball for 230 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in that game, and was named Offensive MVP of the game.
It marked Elliott’s second straight game going over 200 yards rushing, after rolling up 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in the Big Ten Championship game against Wisconsin on Dec. 6.
He is the first running back in Ohio State history to eclipse the 200-yard rushing mark in consecutive games.
When Elliott takes the field Monday in the CFP National Championship Game, he’ll have plenty of supporters from Mount Ayr cheering him on.
Elliott is the son of former Mount Ayr standout athlete Dawn (Huff) Elliott, who just this fall was a member of the inaugural Mount Ayr Community Schools Hall of Fame induction class.
Dawn placed in three events at the 1988 state track meet, helping the Raiderettes win the school’s only girls state track team title. One year later, she won the long jump at the state meet.
She was also an all-state basketball and softball player for Mount Ayr, and was named the Des Moines Register’s 1990 female high school athlete of the year.
Dawn continued her athletic career at the University of Missouri, where she was a member of the track and field team. It was there she met her future husband, Stacy Elliott, who was an outside linebacker for the Tigers.
With parents who were both Division I athletes, it’s no surprise Ezekiel is now making a name for himself on the national scene.
His grandfather, Leon Huff, played basketball at Drake in the 1970s. So athletics is in his genes.
“He was a three-sport athlete,” Dawn said about Ezekiel. “Football, basketball and track. He was actually one of the top hurdlers in the country. He could have done track or football or both. He was a really good high hurdler, however, he gained like 25 pounds, so high hurdles were out of the question.”
Ezekiel was a four-star football recruit coming out of John Burroughs School in St. Louis, Mo.
He garnered attention from Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Notre Dame and countless others. Eventually, Missouri became interested in him. But Ezekiel chose Ohio State.
Dawn said when Ezekiel took his college visits, he often met with both the football and track coaches. But the weight gain caused him to choose football alone.
Turns out, it was a solid choice.
The 6-0, 225-pound sophomore torched the vaunted Alabama defense in the CFP semifinals, and flashed that track speed on his 85-yard touchdown with 3:24 left in the game that all but clinched Ohio State’s victory.
Ezekiel took a handoff from quarterback Cardale Jones and ran off left tackle, where he picked up a huge block from wide receiver Evan Spencer, who sealed off two Alabama defenders, springing Ezekiel to go untouched for the touchdown.
“I knew he was gone,” said Dawn, who was in attendance at the game with her husband and their two daughters, along with her mother and her aunt.
“When I saw Evan Spencer took out the linebacker, I knew he was gone. I felt like, at that point, it was like that sealed the deal. Lot of high fives and hugs. Some people were crying.”
Ezekiel, who has put together his two best games of his career in Ohio State’s last two games, was named the Offensive MVP of the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
“He was so excited!” Dawn said. “Just so happy. He has a permanent smile on his face. We went up to his (hotel) room and sat with him. He had his trophy there. There was a permanent smile on his face. You could see all his teeth.”
But, just like the shirt Ezekiel wore after the game said, he and the Buckeyes “Won Not Done.”
There’s still one more game to go, and it’s the biggest game of Ezekiel’s career.
Once again, Dawn and family will be in attendance, cheering him on.
The College Football Playoff announced Tuesday it would be providing assistance for families to travel to the game, in the amount of up to $1,250 each for two parents or guardians to attend the game. It was a decision that relieved Dawn.
“Tell you what, we’ve been pushing for that,” she said. “We’ve been tweeting a lot about it. We were really pushing for it, tweeting at the NCAA, tweeting at the Big Ten. Finally, someone listened. It’s not like we were saying pay the players. It’s helping the families get there to support their players. I know coach (Urban) Meyer said, his family gets to go, but what about the players’ families?”
Dawn, who now lives in Alton, Ill., with her husband Stacy and daughters Lailah and Aaliyah, works in St. Louis for Travelers Insurance in the inland marine division. Lailah is a sophomore at John Burroughs School and Aaliyah is a third-grader.
She said she hasn’t spoken to Ezekiel much in the days leading up to Monday’s game.
“They’ve been practicing a lot,” she said. “I talked to him Friday when he got back to Columbus. He said he was very sore!”
The transition from athlete to being a fan in the stands hasn’t always been easy for Dawn.
“With all of my children, my older daughter does three sports and my youngest daughter does track. I tell you, I am more nervous than I was competing!” she said. “At the beginning of the game, beginning of the race, my nerves are horrible.”
So what is Dawn’s scouting report on Monday’s CFP National Championship Game?
“They (Ohio State) need to go out and score fast and a lot, so I can chill,” she said. “But I have a feeling that’s going to be a pretty good game, as well. They’re probably going to put up some numbers Monday night, both sides.”
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