Grey Brancifort learned to appreciate his teammates in the Pickerington High School Central football program long before he ever became a varsity standout.

A senior inside linebacker and third-year starter who, according to coach Jay Sharrett, is the program's all-time leader in career tackles, Brancifort's prep career nevertheless got off to a slow start.

During his freshman season, he endured an injury that kept him out of action for three months.

"I broke my back playing football," Brancifort said. "I got speared by a running back and ruptured two discs (in my back). It was hard because I gained a lot of weight, actually about 20 pounds. I liked coming back. The guys in the weight room helped me bounce back."

Brancifort took over the starting job early in his sophomore year and has made more than 30 consecutive starts since that time, including all nine of the Tigers' games this season.

Central beat Reynoldsburg 41-7 on Oct. 20 to improve to 8-1 overall and 4-0 in the OCC-Ohio Division and already has earned at least a share of its 12th consecutive league title heading into its regular-season finale Friday, Oct. 27, at Grove City.

The Dawgs lost to Gahanna 62-35 on Oct. 20 to fall to 1-8 overall and 0-4 in the league.

The Tigers are on their way to making their 12th consecutive playoff appearance.

Central was projected to be second in the Division I, Region 3 computer ratings heading into Week 10 and likely will secure a first-round home game with a win, although its final seed could change.

Centerville was projected to be first in the region, with Hilliard Bradley and Huber Heights Wayne were expected to be third and fourth, respectively. On Oct. 27, Bradley closes the regular season at Delaware, which is just 3-6, while Wayne could move up significantly if it beats Trotwood-Madison.

Trotwood-Madison handed Central its only loss, 28-19 on Sept. 8, and is 9-0, while Wayne is 7-2.

The 6-foot, 220-pound Brancifort, who made special mention all-district last season, is happy with the strides his team has made since its only loss.

"I think we can go all the way," Brancifort said. "We've got the talent and the speed. I've been playing with these guys forever and a lot of them have played varsity since they were sophomores. What probably makes it go this year is the maturity and our communication. We communicate with each other easily and all know what we can depend on."

Brancifort, whose brother, sophomore Sawyer Brancifort, is on junior varsity, sees action on some offensive packages at running back and had one carry for 8 yards against Reynoldsburg.

The Tigers have beaten the Raiders 16 consecutive times and have an eight-game winning streak against Grove City. Central's last loss against the Dawgs came in 2005, 12-6 in overtime. That season marked the last time the Tigers failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Sharrett wouldn't trade the playmaking abilities of Brancifort, who has scholarship offers from Morehead State and Butler and also has received interest from Ohio University and Ashland.

Brancifort had a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown last season and holds the program record for most tackles in a game with 24, which was set last season.

"Grey has made several game-saving plays during his career and made another against Pickerington North (in a 24-21 win Oct. 13) in the end zone," Sharrett said.

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek