COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Luke Fickell and the No. 4 Cincinnati Bearcats are one day away from facing No. 1 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl with a spot in the national championship on the line.

Fickell has come a long way from his playing days at St. Francis DeSales High School and Ohio State, but he still has plenty of connection to Central Ohio.

“Everybody knew: That’s Luke Fickell. You don’t want to mess with him,” former DeSales football head coach Bob Jacoby said.

Jacoby led DeSales from 1998 to 2006 and was there when Fickell starred as a Stallion from 1989 to 1991.

“He’s the most mentally tough person I’ve ever been around even at that young age,” Jacoby said. “I think it’s from the sport of wrestling and his parents. His father’s a very tough guy, his mother’s a saint . . . he got an equal portion from both of them.”

Dublin Scioto Athletic Director Nick Magistrale played with Fickell at DeSales and both were named first team All-Ohio their senior year.

“He was always the most driven person. His discipline and self motivation was second to none,” Magistrale said. “We saw stuff on the football side of things and how he dominated the line of scrimmage but watching him in wrestling was equal, if not more, impressive.”

Fickell is regarded as one of, if not the best, Ohio high school wrestler of all time. From his sophomore to senior year, Fickell posted a record of 106 wins and 0 losses and won three state titles, including two as a heavyweight.

“You know anytime he decides he wants to do something, he figures out a way to do it,” Jacoby said.

Fickell figured out a way to take a group of 5 team to the College Football Playoff in just his fifth season at UC. Now, the Bearcats look to shock the college football world once more when they face the Crimson Tide at 3:30 EST in Dallas on Friday, Dec. 31.