Over the past decade, the Pickerington High School Central football team has competed in venues such as Ohio Stadium, the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium and the University of Toledo's Glass Bowl.

The Tigers also played in games televised on ESPN to open the 2009 and '10 seasons as well as in Week 2 of the 2011 season.

Coming off the first Division I state championship in program history, Central's next opportunity to be in the spotlight will take place Sunday, Aug. 26, when it plays Chicago Phillips Academy at 12:30 p.m. at Otterbein University in another game televised by ESPN.

"If you get onto ESPN, win or lose you try to put out a good performance," coach Jay Sharrett said. "If things don't work out, I don't think you'd get invited back. We've taken those games deep into the fourth quarter each time. It helps that we've done it before."

However, those experiences on national TV, or even when Central beat Mentor 56-28 in the state final to finish 14-1 last season, might not help the Tigers prepare for what Phillips brings to the field in terms of athleticism.

The Wildcats have gone 51-4 over the past four seasons, including 14-0 last season when they won Illinois' Class 5A state title, with 8A being that state's largest classification.

Phillips, which won the Class 4A title in 2015, reportedly has petitioned the Illinois High School Association to compete in Division 6A this fall.

The Wildcats' top athletes are senior tight end Jahleel Billingsley (6-foot-5, 227 pounds), who has committed to Alabama, and senior defensive backs Fabian McCray (6-2, 180) and Joseph Thompson (5-11, 160), both of whom have committed to the University of Illinois.

Phillips' new quarterback is expected to be senior Leonard Smith (5-11, 170), who started last season for Chicago Hubbard. He transferred during the offseason to replace 2018 graduate J'Bore Gibbs, who is now playing for South Dakota State.

The Tigers will counter defensively with a frontline that features senior tackles DeWayne Carter and Karter Johnson, who have committed to Duke and TCU, respectively, and senior Isaiah O'Connor and junior Ty Hamilton at linebacker.

Seniors Jason Betts, Jaquwon Crawford and Terry Simuel and sophomore Lorenzo Styles all were key contributors last season for a secondary that is dealing with the graduation losses of Xavier Henderson (Michigan State) and Jeremiah Wood (Ohio University).

"I know they're just packed full of (players with scholarship offers)," Sharrett said of Phillips. "Wendell Phillips is an Academy, so those kids who are going to that school are very, very motivated, not just on the field but in the classroom and that carries over to the way they play. They're very sharp, very disciplined and they're going to present a huge size problem.

"They run a wide-open offense, sometimes using three wide receivers or four wide receivers, but when they need to go short yardage, they can buckle up and they're very physical and multi-dimensional."

The Tigers' biggest question mark might be their offensive line, as they lost all five starters to graduation as well as a pair of college recruits at tight end in Alex Morgan (Toledo) and Trenton Gillison (Michigan State).

Junior Demeatric Crenshaw returns at quarterback, however, after rushing for 1,379 yards and 24 touchdowns and passing for 1,604 yards and 13 scores. Senior running back Jamir Jackson also returns after rushing for 782 yards and 15 touchdowns.

"We rotated (in) three offensive linemen (who have returned), so it's not like they're completely green," Sharrett said.

"We were very fortunate because we were able to get a scrimmage in after we had one stormed out at Darby."

Defensively, in addition to McCray and Thompson, the Wildcats feature junior Dominic Bass (6-4, 250) on their line. Bass has offers from Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State, among others.

"We know they're a pretty good team," Crawford said. "It's exciting, but we try not to let it get to us too much. It's another game that a lot of people are going to be watching."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek