The Brookhaven and Marion-Franklin high school football teams haven't faced off since they shared the same division of the City League seven years ago. The two perennial playoff qualifiers have become the class of their respective conferences and will clash at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Marion-Franklin.

The Brookhaven and Marion-Franklin high school football teams haven't faced off since they shared the same division of the City League seven years ago. The two perennial playoff qualifiers have become the class of their respective conferences and will clash at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Marion-Franklin.

This matchup was forged out of a desire by both teams to beef up their schedules. Friday's game becomes more interesting considering both teams are competing in Division II, Region 7 after Brookhaven's drop from Division I.

"(Brookhaven has) been kind of dominating things for the last eight to 10 years in the North and we've been doing well for the last five years," Marion Franklin coach Brian Haffele said. "It should be a good atmosphere for spectators to watch."

The Red Devils are building on a season in which they won a playoff game for the first time. They're leaning on a group ofhuge returning offensive lineman that includes Aaron Shelton (6-5, 320), Nate Strickland (6-3, 300), Nick Strickland (6-3, 300) and Matt Williams (6-1, 310).

Marion-Franklin also has one of the area's premier returning quarterbacks in senior Verlon Reed. He threw for more than 1,200 yards and senior Jeremy McCoy (6-3, 195) is a returning starter at wide receiver.

"So much talk is about their size and some of the other talk is about our athleticism, so it's going to be a battle of attrition," said Bearcats coach Anthony Thornton. "The thing about (Reed) is that he's very cool, very relaxed. He does a good job of keeping plays alive. You have to force him to stay in the pocket."

Brookhaven has lost in the first round of the playoffs in three of the past four seasons. This after winning the 2004 Division II state championship.

The Bearcats boast one of the area's top athletes in senior defensive lineman Derrick Bryant (6-foot-4, 235 pounds). He's already received scholarship offers from a list of schools that includes Michigan, UCLA and several others from the Big Ten.

He's joined on the defensive line by seniors Zaphere Carroll (5-10, 235) and D.J. Greggs (6-1, 215).

The Bearcats also have solid athletes in the secondary, where seniors Michael Sellers (5-11, 175) and Ryland Ward (5-10, 190) lead the way.

"They're a typical Brookhaven team in that they're going to have a ton of athletes," said Haffele, whose team finished 10-2 last season. "Defensively, their front seven is very good and they're very well-coached. It's going to be an interesting chess match."

One of Brookhaven's biggest strengths -- and some of its biggest question marks -- lay on the offensive end.

Sophomore Tajuan Green (6-0, 170) solidified his hold on the quarterback job by throwing a pair of touchdowns in the Bearcats' second scrimmage. He should have several talented athletes to throw to, led by seniors DeShawn Alston (5-11, 175), Deonta Stenson (6-2, 180) and William Tweedy (5-10, 170).

Brookhaven likely will use a committee approach to its backfield, with senior Antoine White (5-9, 180) and Jonzelle Meeks (5-10, 170) expected to see significant carries.

•BEECHCROFT vs. WHITEHALL -- One of the few questions Beechcroft had entering the offseason was solved when junior Sheldon Akin was declared eligible for the season.

After completing 96 of 191 passes for 1,520 yards and 20 touchdowns last year for Africentric, Akin transferred to Beechcroft in the offseason.

He is expected to start at quarterback in the Cougars' opener Friday against visiting Whitehall, which has lost 34 consecutive games including a 42-0 decision to Beechcroft in the opener last season.

"We did end up getting Sheldon Akin, but he's rusty because he hadn't been getting a lot of reps," coach Bruce Ward said. "The best thing about him is his poise and confidence. As soon as he got back there, you could tell he just has the feel of a quarterback."

Akin is surrounded offensively by experienced players. Seniors Wallace Hale and B.J. Watkins both rushed seven times for 67 yards and one touchdown in the win over Whitehall last year.

The Rams, whose last victory came Sept. 29, 2005 over Bexley (27-21), has their most experience on defense.

They're led by senior Kyle Jefferson, who earned first-team all-MSL-Ohio Division honors at wide receiver and defensive back.

Also on defense, juniors Travers Clark and Justin Davis are returning starters while senior Justin Sweat and sophomore Tyrone Smith are back in the secondary.

Beechcroft set a school record with seven shutouts last season and returns most of its defense. Hale and Watkins are back at linebacker, Rasean Moore is on the line and Larez Harper is in the secondary.

"They look more confident than last year," Ward said. "They're getting it turned around."

•NORTHLAND at CLEVELAND HEIGHTS -- Northland coach Kevin Tooson believes his team's quarterback situation was solidified during the preseason with the continued development of junior Myles Taylor-Hicks (6-3, 190), atransfer from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

Taylor-Hicks leads an offense banking on more success than a year ago when the Vikings were held under double digits five times and averaged just 6.8 points in their six losses.

Others expected to lead Northland's offense include tailbacks Raynard Ballard (5-10, 180) andJarrell Jones (5-9, 175) and fullbacks Jamar Yates (5-9, 190) and Devin Hill (5-11, 225). The Vikings suffered a blow when sophomore right tackle Tyra' Harp (6-2, 250) likely was lost for the season with a broken collarbone during the preseason.

Cleveland Heights will be led by a new quarterback in junior Shaquille Lackey. Other key players on offense include senior Jonathan Hardy at wide receiver, junior Charles Hill (5-10, 200) and senior Cornell Grayer (5-10, 215) at fullback and senior Dominique Daniel (5-8, 155) at tailback.

"We like Myles' leadership ability, and he's a very positive kid," Tooson said. "He doesn't let his mistakes bury him. (Cleveland Heights runs) a 3-5 defense and had a lot of losses to graduation, but they've got pretty good speed and pretty decent size. They play in a very tough league. I think we're very evenly matched."


Season Preview

To read the season previews for all area prep football teams, pick up a copy of the Friday Night Live '09 Central Ohio High School Football Preview, presented by Grange Insurance. The 112-page guide is now available at the following sites:

Nearby Grange Insurance offices:

•Associated Insurance Agencies, 63 Commerce Park Dr., Westerville