Some high school football teams shy away from saying the word "playoffs" in August.

Some high school football teams shy away from saying the word "playoffs" in August.

Don't count the Jonathan Alder High School team among them.

"We always have high expectations," said senior cornerback Aaron Dunlap, who added he expects the Pioneers to make the playoffs for the ninth year in a row. "It's always been like that, so we're pretty much used to it. We like that kind of pressure."

"We've had a lot of success the last eight years," said coach Steve Coate, who enters his fourth season. "We expect to do so again this year. We're not in a league, so the only thing we have to play for is qualifying for the state playoffs. To do that, you need to have an excellent season."

Coate also said he balances playoff talk with making sure his team focuses on the next game. This year's schedule is a prime example of why.

The Pioneers have some key matchups, particularly early in September. Jonathan Alder plays host to Canal Winchester on Sept. 4 and travels to Cinton-Massey a week later.

The Indians were a Division III playoff qualifier last season and have moved up to Division II. Clinton-Massey advanced to the Division IV playoffs a year ago. Division IV Lehman Catholic (Oct. 2 at home) is the other playoff team on the schedule.

Six teams on Alder's schedule had a winning record in 2008. The Pioneers, a Division IV team, will have five games against teams in the top three divisions.

"We've got a tough schedule all the way along," said Coate, whose team opens Friday as host to Thomas Worthington, a Division I school.

Coate has 83 players in his program, including 21 seniors and 16 returning letterwinners.

Leading the offense is junior quarterback Graham Johnston, who was honorable mention all-district last season. His targets at wide receiver include seniors Jarrod Stahl, Vince Palmer, Tayler Yutzy and Logan Hostetler and juniors J.C. Artrip and Andy Troyer.

Front-runners at running back are sophomore Nick Wrightsel and junior Austin Dehart.

Leading the offensive line are junior returnees Brandon Purdum at left tackle and Corey Boyer at left guard. Also in the mix are seniors Kory Zook, Grant Thomas and Jerred Sullivan and sophomores Max Pollom, Zac Snively and Trey Rudolph.

Palmer likes how the offense -- which features I, spread and one-back looks -- is shaping up during the preseason.

"Our O-line is stepping it up this year. We're ready to go," Palmer said. "We believe that we can do it. All we have to do is keep working hard.

"Right now, we just need to keep our heads up and know that we can do it, just keep our confidence up."

The 50 defense will be led up front by senior Nathan Richards, who was second-team all-district, and senior Josh Davis, who was special mention all-district and has committed to Purdue.

Senior Dylan Craig and junior Donald Thomas also will see action on the line.

The secondary will feature Dunlap, who was first-team all-district, and junior D.J. McCray at cornerback and seniors Justin Ault and Steven Picklesimon at safety.

All three starters at linebacker a year ago were lost to graduation, and they will be replaced by the trio of Purdum, sophomore Tyler Parker and senior Nathan Bidwell.

"We should be good, like always," Coate said of the defense. "We have three returners on the defensive line and all the secondary back. I think we should be good."

Senior Lucas Kirkpatrick and freshman Nick Smith are vying for kicking duties, and sophomores Nick Squires and Jared Adams are looking to be the punter.

"We're excited, and we expect to have a good season," Coate said. "Any success this season starts with having success in the first game."