The Olentangy Liberty and Orange high school football teams will have much more in common than just being members of the same school district when they meet to open the season.
Both teams will be trying to establish identities when they play Friday, Aug. 30, at Liberty.
Orange has one starter back on offense and five on defense.
Liberty is looking to replace Joey Longhino, the most prolific quarterback in program history. The 2013 graduate completed 156 of 226 passes for a program-record 2,214 yards last season with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He finished his career with a program-record 4,095 yards passing as a two-year starter.
"They lost some good football players, including (Longhino) who made some good things happen for them," said Orange coach Brian Cross, whose team finished 6-4 overall. "Plus, it's tough playing a first game anyway, and this is against a rival. The kids are always nervous and excited, but that kind of goes away after the first two plays."
Liberty won last season's meeting 43-21 en route to finishing 7-3. The Patriots lead the series 2-1.
"This is a really big game to start the year off with because the (school) district rivalries mean a lot to the kids," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "Orange will be solid, as always. This is a big test for us."
Senior quarterback Matt Kessler replaces Longhino and senior Daryian Davies returns at running back. Davies was honorable mention all-district in Division I and first-team all-league last year, finishing with 1,057 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns.
Kessler will have experienced linemen protecting him, including senior Luke Callahan (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) and junior Hunter Littlejohn (6-4, 270). Callahan has verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati and Littlejohn has offers from Illinois, Boston College and Akron.
"(It's difficult) to start right off the bat with a team that has been a very successful program for a long time and we're a new school in our sixth season," Cross said. "We're probably going through our biggest rebuilding year since our first year and we're below 60 kids. I guess they have 95 kids in their top three grades, so they definitely have an advantage over us in the numbers game."
Senior tight end Jake Lewis is the lone returning starter for Orange on offense, but he has made his biggest impact as a linebacker, where he will be a third-year starter.
The Pioneers have a new backfield that will include junior quarterback C.J. Stablein, who started as a defensive back last season. The tailbacks look to be a rotation of seniors Jeddy Awuah and Alex Menzo and sophomore Tyler Lichter.