With only two returning starters on offense and five on defense, the New Albany High School football team hopes to kick-start another successful season by winning its opener Thursday, Aug. 28, at Reynoldsburg.
Meanwhile, the Raiders are hoping to make their way toward what the Eagles have achieved in recent years. New Albany won four consecutive OCC-Capital Division championships from 2010-13, went 12-2 last year and advanced to a Division II regional final, and was in a state semifinal in 2012.
"My first three years here, we wanted to build a solid foundation," said Reynoldsburg coach Buddy White, whose team was 5-5 last year and is seeking its first playoff appearance since 2001. "We won the games we were supposed to win, and lost the games we were supposed to lose. Now we want to do what championship teams do.
"We've been focused on nothing but New Albany. We realize how big a game this can be for us. Two-thirds of our starters are juniors, and we are excited about that."
Both quarterbacks, New Albany's Jalen Ward and Reynoldsburg's Conner McCloud, are first-time starters. Eagles receiver Titus Williams is the only offensive starter to have seen considerable time on that side of the ball last year, as Ward started at cornerback.
Reynoldsburg's most-veteran player on offense is senior lineman Christian Eubanks.
"We have to calm our nerves quick," New Albany coach Pat Samanich said. "We have to make sure we're ready and we have to play at our tempo and take care of the football. We have to play great, physical defense and create turnovers."
White still has nightmares about the five turnovers Reynoldsburg committed in last year's 38-20 season-opening loss at New Albany. On top of that, Eagles running back Christo Semertsidis amassed 255 yards and three touchdowns before suffering a season-ending torn knee ligament.
Samanich will lean on Semertsidis to anchor the ground game, with Nick Dewberry, Jake Simons and Williams among the receivers.
"New Albany has their wrinkles, and they'll do what they do," White said. "At the end of the day, it all comes down to solid blocking and tackling. We should have a very strong defense this year, and I trust that they'll do their jobs."
New Albany's defensive line returns three starters in Xzavier Brandon, Tyler Pearson and Miami University recruit Jack Schroer. Reynoldsburg also has experience on the defense, with Ashton Dulin at free safety as well as returning starters Darius Dunning, Eubanks and Mark Gooden on the line.
The Eagles also have a special-teams weapon in kicker Joey Rolwing, who was 7-for-14 on field goals last year with a long of 49 yards.
"Special teams-wise, Joey has to be able to put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs," Samanich said. "We need to win the field position battle. He needs to be a weapon. Joey had a great offseason and we expect big things from him."
New Albany and Reynoldsburg have split season-opening games the past two years, with each team winning on its home field. The Raiders won 10-9 in 2012.