When the Groveport High School football team opens Friday, Aug. 30, at Westerville South, coach Bryan Schoonover said it's going to be crucial for his triple-option offense to establish an effective running game.
Groveport was unable to do so in last year's opener against South, a 55-14 loss that started a 1-9 season. The Wildcats finished 8-3, losing to Hilliard Darby 31-10 in their Division I, Region 3 playoff opener.
"The most important thing is we need to run the ball well to control the clock," Schoon-over said. "Our offense needs to run the ball to be effective, and controlling the clock is especially important against a team like Westerville South because they have a lot of great athletes and we need to limit their number of offensive possessions."
Groveport quarterback/running back Mecca Swain will look to run the ball himself or distribute it to teammates such tailbacks Dayrel Billingsley and Tristen Gabriel, fullbacks Jordan Garrettson and Dalonte Smith and receivers Terric Bryant and Markel Davis.
"Our players have to know their assignments and keep them covered," South coach Rocky Pentello said of his 4-3 defense. "Groveport has a run-oriented offense, so we've got to keep the quarterback, dive and pitch covered on every play while keeping their receivers covered, too."
Three defensive starters have returned for South in senior linebacker Kamaree Walden, senior lineman Curtis Mitchell and senior free safety Trey Harden.
The Wildcats' spread offense lost several key starters to graduation, including quarterback Nick Renzetti, wide receivers Marcus Ball and Jalen Bell and tailback Noah Prentiss.
However, five starting offensive linemen have returned, including left guard Adam Thesing, who was second-team all-OCC-Cardinal Division last year, and left tackle Rob Dowdy, who is a Division I college recruit.
Timmy Bates will start at quarterback, and he has two returning starters to throw to in wide receiver Torrodd Carter and tight end Darryl Long. A year ago, Carter had 33 catches for 580 yards and five touchdowns and Long had 28 catches for 434 yards and four scores.
Pentello said he also has confidence in running backs Darien Miller and Devan Wade.
"We're going to try to keep a 50-50 balance when it comes to running and passing," Pentello said. "We just need to make sure we don't turn the ball over."
Schoonover said his 4-3 defense, led by tackle Alex Hoyt, safety Tyren Jackson and linebacker Daquan Mayle, will try to prevent South from making big plays.
"I know South lost some good players, but their new quarterback can throw and run the ball and I don't see any drop off at all," Schoonover said.