A program rich with tradition, the Watterson High School football team endured a disappointing season a year ago, finishing 2-8.

The Eagles, a Division III program that has 23 playoff appearances and two state championships to its credit, will look to begin their turnaround Friday, Aug. 24, when they play host to Dublin Jerome in the season opener for both teams.

The Celtics are coming off a season in which they went 7-4 and reached the Division I, Region 2 playoffs.

"There's no such thing as a moral victory," second-year Watterson coach Brian Kennedy said. "If we go out there and win that first game, I think that really sets the tone. If you don't win it, being competitive and being able to say 'Guys, we competed' (is important) because the schedule doesn't get any easier after Week 1 for us."

The teams met in Week 9 last season, with host Jerome winning 28-27. The Celtics used a blocked extra point by 2018 graduate Cade Kacherski and a successful fake punt for a key first down late in the game to preserve the win.

Watterson lost 37 players to graduation and features a roster with just 37 players in grades 10-12.

Despite facing a team hit hard by graduation and lacking depth, fourth-year Jerome coach Bob Gecewich expects another battle.

"Last year, Watterson came in with a great game plan and carved us up and gave our offense fits," Gecewich said. "Our team needs to have considerable growth this week to compete as we fully expect them to be extremely well-coached and ready to hit the ground running versus us."

The Eagles run a multiple-set offense -- which Kennedy compares to a West Coast scheme -- with sophomore Jacob Hoying expected to start at quarterback in place of 2018 graduate Cole Andrews. Junior Tommy Bair is expected to be a featured running back.

Senior Nick Jannot, who had 14 receptions for 116 yards and one touchdown last season, should be a key wide receiver for the Eagles, while senior lineman Drew Davis and senior linebacker Grant Horvath are key players in Watterson's 3-4 defense.

Horvath saw time at quarterback last season behind Andrews, but is expected to focus more on defense this fall. He also will see time at running back and tight end.

"There are enough similarities between Watterson and Jerome and we have kids who know each other," Gecewich said.

Jerome also lost key players to graduation, but returns a solid nucleus as it seeks its fourth consecutive winning season and third consecutive playoff berth.

"I don't think they lost a lot," Kennedy said. "(Gecewich) has a lot of returning starters, guys who have been in the program and on the field and have that experience. That's our challenge. We're going to have a lot of kids playing that first Friday night that haven't played under the lights before."

Senior quarterback Hayden Schell, who passed for 1,262 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, returns to lead the Celtics' spread offense.

Senior Andrew Brim is a leading candidate to replace 2018 graduate Robert Cope at running back. Cope, a preferred walk-on at Ohio State, rushed for 982 yards and nine touchdowns on 151 carries last season and was named second-team all-district.

Senior Trey Ballengee is expected to be a key wide receiver for the Celtics, while junior free safety Scott Sonnanstine will help lead Jerome's 3-4 defense after making honorable mention all-district last season.

"We have to focus on us and figure out what we're doing before we can figure out anything else," Gecewich said. "It's a little concerning at this point that we still have as many question marks as we have. There are still opportunities for kids to step up and steal spots."

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