For each of the past three seasons, the Pickerington High School Central football team traveled to southwest Ohio to open its season in the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown.
When promoters for the Premier Health Backyard Blitz called to ask if the Tigers might be interested in participating in their inaugural event in Centerville, coach Jay Sharrett didn't hesitate.
Central opens at 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, against Goose Creek (S.C.) as part of a doubleheader that will be followed by the host Elks playing Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North.
"The people that run (the Backyard Blitz) called us and asked us if we'd be in it, and it's been a first-class event all the way," Sharrett said. "This is kind of a national event, so you know (Goose Creek is) going to be good."
Central will look to win its opener for the first time since 2010. In 2011, the Tigers opened by losing to Cincinnati Moeller 14-0 but ended up earning a Division I state runner-up finish.
Last season, Central bounced back from a 38-33 loss to Centerville in the Crosstown Showdown to finish 8-3. The Tigers lost to Cincinnati Colerain 38-20 in a Division I, Region 2 second-round playoff game.
Goose Creek is coming off a 12-1 season, with its loss coming 30-27 to Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe in a Class AAAA II second-round game.
The Gators compete in the second largest of South Carolina's seven divisions. The top 16 teams in each division make the playoffs, and Goose Creek was the No. 1 seed in last year's postseason.
The Gators won a state title in 2011 but also lost a second-round game in 2012.
"They're an absolute pipeline for SEC and ACC schools," Sharrett said. "They have a lot of (elite) athletes and are one of the top four or five programs in the state."
Goose Creek has had at least one Football Bowl Subdivision recruit in each of the past four classes, although the most prized recruit on its current roster might be a junior.
Javon Kinlaw, a 6-foot-7, 275-pound defensive end, is a junior who already has been offered by South Carolina and is considered a four-star recruit by Scout.com.
He is among the key players for a defense that also features cornerback Delonzo Prather (5-11, 185), who had 80 tackles and one interception last year, tackle Trenton Brown (5-11, 300) and linebacker K.J. Wood (5-10, 210).
The Tigers return their leading receiver from last year in senior Eric Johnson (25 catches) as well as senior offensive lineman DaVon Hamilton, who has committed to Pittsburgh.
"They've got some big guys," Sharrett said. "They've got a 6-foot-7 defensive end who's a (top recruit) without a doubt. They're used to these kinds of games. They're very physical."
Goose Creek returns several key players on offense led by senior running back Tyrik Johnson (5-9, 175). He rushed for 1,147 yards and 24 touchdowns on just 97 carries last year for an option offense that rushed for 5,000 yards.
Senior Deondre' Daniels (6-0, 170) is the leading returning receiver after making 34 catches for 610 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Dijon Profit (6-1, 180) also is back at wide receiver.
Senior Pedro Manigault was expected to be at quarterback, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in early August. Junior Dominique Jefferson (5-8, 175) threw for three touchdowns and rushed for three scores as the backup last year and is expected to take over.
The top returnees for Central's defense are linebacker Clayton Glasco, who has committed to Ohio University, as well as senior Clay Burk and junior Ahmed Francis II at linebacker and seniors Brad Morris and Johnson in the secondary.
"They like to run the ball as an option team," Glasco said. "We're working on our defensive discipline and reading the plays. We're pretty excited to play them."