Among the biggest concerns for any high school football coach heading into a season opener is keeping the emotions and nerves of his players in check.

Among the biggest concerns for any high school football coach heading into a season opener is keeping the emotions and nerves of his players in check.

Needless to say, that doesn't get any easier when your team is playing on Sunday afternoon at Ohio Stadium in a nationally-televised game.

Such is the case for Olentangy Liberty and Dublin Coffman, which kick off at noon Sunday as part of the fifth edition of the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series.

"Both sides are going to have to deal with (the atmosphere), controlling the impact it has," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "There's no way to avoid that. It's a great venue, a historical venue, it's on national television to some degree, on ESPNU, and it's a big game right off the bat with a playoff-caliber, traditional program like Coffman."

Hale and Coffman coach Mark Crabtree both said that the fact that the game will be played on a Sunday also presents a unique challenge.

"We're still kind of feeling our way with that," Crabtree said. "We're going to take the beginning of the week and review and watch film, and as the week goes along, for example, Wednesday and Thursday might be our typical Monday practice. We're a couple days behind everybody else, but we're going to treat it as a normal game week as much as we can."

These two teams opened the season last year with a low-scoring affair. Coffman won, 10-7, on a Kyle Clinton 30-yard field goal with 1 minute, 9 seconds left.

Coffman won its next six games but lost its final three and missed the playoffs. However, Liberty played its best football at the end of last season.

The Patriots won their final two regular-season games and earned the eighth seed in Division II, Region 6. They defeated previously unbeaten Toledo Central Catholic 34-7 in the first round of the playoffs but lost to Medina Highland 35-0 in a regional semifinal.

The Patriots are looking to fill more than half of their starting spots from last season. The Shamrocks, however, have as much experience as almost any team in the area.

Junior quarterback Cole Stoudt has a year of experience under his belt. He threw for 1,083 yards and 14 touchdowns. Running back Shaun Jones rushed for 1,122 yards and three of the five starters are back on the offensive line, including senior Sam Schulte, a special-mention all-district pick last season.

"We saw (Stoudt) as a sophomore in his first start ever, and he threw the ball very well," Hale said. "So I'm sure he's going to be throwing the ball very, very well (on Sunday) as well."

Defensively, Coffman also has experience, including cornerback Conner Viers, safety John Wurm and linebackers Brett Buehler and Kyle Frazier. But the defensive line is replacing all four starters.

The Patriots' offense replaced its top two rushers and its top receiver, but it will have a veteran quarterback in senior Zach Michael. He threw for 1,485 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and has been impressive in the preseason. The offensive line returns three starters and should be solid as the Patriots' skill players develop.

Defensively, Liberty hopes to limit Coffman's spread offense with a 3-5-3 defense that takes advantage of the Patriots' speed. The few veterans Liberty has on defense are spread throughout, including linebacker Shea Baker, defensive lineman A.J. Dobson and strong safety Jake Magary.

Although the Shamrocks are experienced on the offensive line, Crabtree said confusion still can be a problem against the 3-5-3 scheme.

"They try to confuse your blocking assignments and your pass protection on occasion because of the alignment of the linebackers. But I think really the way we look at it is one of those linebackers is usually coming, and then he turns into a defensive lineman. We want to make sure that with our scheme, we can identify the right guy that's coming and be able to get into our protection schemes and our run game."

Opener

LIBERTY vs. DUBLIN COFFMAN

•When: 12 p.m. Sunday

•Where: Ohio Stadium

•Last meeting: 2008, Coffman 10-7

•Top Shamrocks: Brett Buehler, Jay Howard, Shaun Jones, Sam Schulte, Cole Stoudt, Conner Viers and E.J. Williams

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:

•Burrey Insurance, 16 Village Point Dr., Powell

Nearby Buffalo Wings & Rings restaurants:

•8861 Columbus Pike, Lewis Center

The guide also is available at Delaware County Bank locations and stories are available at ThisWeekSports.com