A large senior class that includes a pair of talented offensive linemen and a veteran quarterback has the St. Charles Preparatory School football team hoping it can close the gap on Pickerington North when the programs meet for the third time Friday, Aug. 30.
The host Panthers, who beat the Cardinals 20-8 during their first season in 2003, blew past St. Charles 50-22 to open last season.
While the Cardinals have 24 seniors, North is moving on without 2013 graduates and Division I recruits Jake Butt (TE/DL, Michigan) and Godwin Igwebuike (RB/DB, Northwestern).
North went 12-2 last season and lost to Cincinnati Moeller 26-21 in a Division I state semifinal, while St. Charles finished 6-4.
"Last year we came out a little slow at the beginning of that (St. Charles) game," said North senior linebacker Dylan Weigel, whose team trailed the Cardinals 12-10 early in the second quarter. "In the second half we started scoring touchdowns, so this year we'll look to get out to a better start. I think our team has been coming together pretty well, and we're getting the new guys adjusted to the program."
Seniors Ron Brown (5-foot-8, 189 pounds) and Jabree Lather (5-7, 175), who are transfers from Pittsburgh and Fremont Ross, respectively, are expected to be the top running backs for North.
Senior Zeph Miller is back at quarterback after passing for 476 yards and five touchdowns and rushing for 271 yards a year ago in a backup role.
On defense for North, senior tackle Geno Rollo (6-2, 270) and junior nose tackle Nick Huhn (6-2, 265) should be other key players along with Weigel, who is the program's all-time leading tackler.
"We saw them in a 7-on-7 over the summer at Dublin Coffman and they definitely have some skilled athletes," St. Charles coach Jeff Pharion said.
"Their quarterback is a pretty nimble guy. He seemed to like to get out and roll around the pocket."
Ben Hale, who has verbally committed to Bowling Green, is a free safety who leads the Cardinals defense.
Senior Ryan Bailey (6-1, 190) is back at quarterback after passing for 685 yards and rushing for five scores a year ago.
Although the rest of St. Charles' skill-position players are taking on more prominent roles than in the past, seniors David Heil (6-6, 295) and Nathan Puthoff (6-5, 285) return on the offensive line. Puthoff has verbally committed to Kent State.
"We've got a nice range of athletes and key linemen," Pharion said.
"Our quarterback has started 12 games at the varsity level. He's got a good arm and is very smart in the pocket, but he also runs a 4.6 (seconds) in the 40 (yards)."