For the first time since 2011, the New Albany High School football team is opening against a program not in Division I, part of a change in the Eagles' scheduling philosophy aimed at playing more Division II schools.
Their Week 1 opponent, Westerville South, finds itself in a different place in that it is trying to right its ship after not having had a winning season since 2014 or advancing to the postseason since 2012.
The Wildcats will play host to the Eagles on Friday, Aug. 24, in a matchup of Division II, Region 7 teams.
New Albany has a new coach in Matthew Kidwell, who had been defensive coordinator the past five seasons under Pat Samanich. Samanich resigned in April to become New Albany's dean of students, and Kidwell has changed little, including keeping the entire coaching staff and running the same formations.
South coach Matthew Christ had seen little video of the Eagles entering the week, but he expects to see many of the same things as he saw in their game last year against Westerville North.
"My overall impression is they're well-coached and they play hard," Christ said. "They know how to win games in the second half. They don't panic if the game is close. They're going to be a good test, and that's what you want (in the opener). We're ready to rock and roll."
The Wildcats went 4-6 last year and are trying to make up for the graduations of not only versatile athlete Jaelen Gill, who now plays at Ohio State, but quarterback Max Barber. Barber's expected replacement is senior Jason Penn, who also made three interceptions last year as a defensive back.
Top players on offense include running back Ta'veon Falls, who rushed for 300 yards and a touchdown last year and also plays linebacker, and slot receiver Michael Mansaray, who rushed for 224 yards and three touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 204 yards and five scores.
Senior Jude Pedrozo is the starting center and a noted long snapper.
New Albany is coming off an 8-5 season in which it finished as Region 7 runner-up for the second consecutive year.
The Eagles have opened with back-to-back games against Division I teams each of the past six seasons, but this year dropped both Reynoldsburg -- their opening opponent since 2012 -- and Hilliard Bradley to pick up Division II schools in South and Dublin Scioto.
Even so, Kidwell said South reminds him of Reynoldsburg, which the Eagles defeated 15-13 last year and went 3-3 against in their recent series.
"Westerville South is very similar to Reynoldsburg," Kidwell said. "They're going to have a lot of athletes. They are well-coached. We think it's pretty much the same team we were playing before. It's a Division II school, which is a change."
The Eagles have a new quarterback in senior Luke Muter, who caught 29 passes for 444 yards and six touchdowns as a junior. Even so, senior Michiah Burton is projected to again be the featured back in New Albany's wing-T system.
Burton rushed for 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns on 217 carries in 2017 and was named honorable mention all-state.
Akron commit Will King anchors the defensive line as an end. He had 76 tackles, 19 sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and an interception last year to earn second-team all-state.