Part of what might have helped the Pickerington High School Central football team win a combined seven playoff games from 2009-11 and reach the postseason a year ago were non-league schedules that provided strong tests.
The Tigers participated in the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic from 2009-11 and in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown each of the last two seasons.
A year ago, Central lost to Cincinnati Colerain 28-15 in the Crosstown Showdown but went on to finish 7-3. The Tigers expect to face another tough opponent in this year's event when they travel Friday, Aug. 30, to Centerville.
There are 54 teams this year in the Crosstown Showdown, which was held for the first time in 1998.
"It's fun playing in it," coach Jay Sharrett said.
"We've never played (Centerville) before, but I know our guys won't be shocked by anything in it."
While Central has advanced to the playoffs in nine of Sharrett's 10 seasons, the Elks have been to the playoffs seven times since Ron Ullery took over as coach in 2000.
Ullery enters the game seeking a milestone, as his career record is 99-42.
Centerville, which was 6-4 last season, is led by senior defensive tackle Tito Odenigbo (6-foot-3, 270 pounds). He verbally committed to Illinois in March.
Other key players on defense for the Elks should be senior defensive backs Jack Disser (6-0, 190) and Cameron Langer (6-0, 190) and junior linebacker Blake Zeller (5-11, 195).
On offense, Central returns senior quarterback Colby Simkins, linemen Josh Clouse (5-11, 220), Tyler Boyd (5-11, 240) and Brennan Dudziak (6-6, 260) and running backs Tawain Gordon, Jordan Pieczynski and Isaiah Richmond.
Senior wide receiver Andrew Meyer has a broken collarbone and is out until possibly midseason.
"The coaches do a great job of preparing us, and we've been watching some film on them," said Clouse, a senior. "We've got a lot of experience coming back and we're starting to mesh on offense."
For the Elks, senior Michael Lunsford is expected to be at quarterback, with seniors Nick Bozzo and Cory Carter at running back.
Seniors Patrick Osterhage (6-5, 290) and Jared Weyler (6-5, 285) are key offensive linemen. Weyler has verbally committed to Bowling Green.
Pieczynski (DB) and Richmond (LB) are the topreturnees on defense for the Tigers.
"They've got an outstanding football program," Ullery said.
"They've got one of the top three or four programs in Columbus year in, year out and are very well-coached. Defensively, they're extremely athletic."