Aaron Tobias choked up as he stared down the track that looped around Penns Valley’s football field. The high school senior was looking at his father, Martin, who stood 10 yards away.
The youngest Tobias dropped his head, his eyes slowly filling with tears, and his lip quivering.
The Tobiases and Penns Valley Area High School football had just defeated Bald Eagle Area 42-7 to bring “The Bell” back to Penns Valley for the first time in Aaron’s high school football career.
Aaron looked back up to answer a question about sharing moments like that with his dad.
“It’s special,” he said with a crack in his voice. “These moments are everything.”
Aaron and his father have bonded through football throughout Aaron’s life, whether it’s the NFL, where Aaron is a Packers fan and Martin is a fan of the divisional rival Vikings, college football where both root on Penn State, or high school football, where Martin is Aaron’s coach.
“It’s just fun,” Aaron said. “I love talking football with him, and that’s something we can share together. We have so many football memories. We go way back, so we have that special connection.”
While the Tobiases have used football to further develop their father-son bond, it’s different when the pair hits the field. Aaron becomes just another player to Martin, and to Aaron, Dad becomes Coach.
As a coach, Martin likes to solicit the thoughts of his starting QB before leaving each practice. To Aaron, that’s a sign of his father’s trust and value in his opinion — whether it’s good or bad.
“He always asks me how it went,” Aaron said. “I give him my honest opinion. It either makes him feel good or feel bad depending on how practice went.”
But as soon as they pack up their equipment and exit the field, the masks come off — and the football talk stops.
“We have an unspoken rule,” Martin said. “When we leave the school, we leave everything there from a football standpoint. When we crawl in the truck and we’re riding home, we’re talking about other things. It’s dad and it’s son.”
That line of demarcation has helped maintain a strong relationship between the two.
“It’s really relaxing because I know at the end of the day I can just be his son,” Aaron said. “And he’s still my dad. We can have a relationship here (on the football field) that’s different, but everywhere else, it’s that same father-son relationship.”
Maintaining both a father-son and coach-player relationship isn’t new for Martin. Aaron is his youngest of four sons, all of whom played Penns Valley football.
Now in his final season of coaching one of his sons, Martin said he’ll remember this year fondly. But with the bulk of the season still ahead of them, now is still the time to make new memories, not to reflect.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten to that point yet,” Martin said, “because we’re in it. I think when I have a chance to reflect, I’m going to reflect back on this season, thinking about all of the experiences along the way. But we’re so into day-by-day and week-to-week that I haven’t had a chance to really reflect on that yet.”
As the youngest, Aaron has been able to reap the most from the Tobias Penns Valley football dynasty. From his brothers, he said he learned how to handle being coached by his father, and how to respond to his criticism.
He’s also benefited by the competitive nature between himself and his siblings, which Aaron said helps push him every day to succeed.
“Aaron obviously has had success,” Martin said. “I attribute a lot of that success to the fact that he’s always been pushed to perform by his older brothers in trying to keep up with them.”
While Martin says each of his four sons brought something different to the table as football players, Aaron disagrees with his father that all are equal.
“I’m the best, easily,” Aaron said with a smile.
“I’m a better passer, I think I can run the ball better than them,” he continued. “I’m just a better all-around quarterback and player than them.”
Aaron, however, has the stats to back up his claims. Heading into the season, Aaron was the top returning passer in the state, completing 214 out of 347 passes for 3,075 yards and 34 touchdowns, according to Penns Valley, which follows the National Federation of State High Schools Associations’ standards for stat keeping. In three games so far this season, Aaron has 1,012 total passing yards with 65 completions on 86 attempts.
Of Penns Valley’s 23 touchdowns, Aaron has 19 — 18 of those passing.
According to records kept by Centre County football historian Harry Breon, Aaron is Penns Valley’s all-time leading passer when it comes to passing yards and passing touchdowns, with 5,512 and 63, respectively. He also owns the Centre County records for pass attempts and completions with 403 and 642, respectively, according to Breon and the Penns Valley stat keepers.
Even with all of that already to his name, Tobias said he isn’t done, and wants to make his final season with his father a special one.
“I want to make this as special as possible for all of us,” Aaron said. “I think if we work together as a team, we can do special things and do something this program hasn’t ever done.”