Linebacker David Kirkbride drives an hour just so he can make it from his home in Lancaster to the Columbus Crusaders' practice.

Kirkbride, who is home-schooled, wouldn't have it any other way.

Founded in 1996, the Crusaders are an outreach ministry of the Grace Brethren Church that allows students, who otherwise might not have the opportunity, a chance to play football.

The team attracts players from all over central Ohio and from all backgrounds. Some, like Kirkbride, are home-schooled or attend private schools that don't offer football. Others just didn't want to play for their high school.

"The Crusaders gave me not only opportunity to play football, but to grow into a godly man," said Kirkbride, whose team opens Saturday at the Indianapolis Lions. "It's just awesome."

Brian Stier takes over the program from Mike Stanley, who had coached the team from its inception.

"It's very humbling to follow him as coach," Stier said. "He was a mentor toward me as a coach, and to follow him has been as a neat experience. I'm looking forward to it."

Last year, the Crusaders went 6-3 playing teams from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ontario, Canada.

They played two Columbus-area teams, beating Centennial 39-6 and losing to Hartley 35-0.

This year the games against local teams are at Centennial on Sept. 11 and a home game with Madison Plains on Oct. 16.

A year ago, the Crusaders beat their first four opponents by a combined score of 124-42. After a bye week, however, they lost three of their final five games.

The Crusaders will relying on their 5-2 defense in the early part of the season. The line will be led by Delaware Career Center senior Caleb Tenner (5-10, 190) and Worthington Christian junior Alex Barlitt (5-9, 180).

Whitehall junior Alan Rieche (6-0, 200), Kirkbride (5-10, 210), and home-schooled senior Nathan Williams (6-0, 170) are competing for the linebacker spots.

Village Academy senior Dan Brown (5-10, 160), Worthington Christian junior Dylan Demars (5-10, 175), Horizon Science Academy junior Harold Jones (5-11, 175) and home-schooled sophomore Aaron Long (6-0, 185) will anchor the secondary.

"We have a good core of kids, but they're still learning," Stier said. "We're trying to get the aggressiveness back that we had in the past."

The Crusaders will continue to use a spread offense. The group of receivers is led by Micah Harris (6-0, 160) of the New Life School of Excellence in Reynoldsburg and Nathan Miller (6-1, 185) of Worthington Christian.

Worthington Christian junior Jack Price (6-1, 170) and Canal Winchester senior Martez Black (6-0, 180) are competing for time at quarterback.

Worthington Christian senior Paul Torrie (5-9, 180) and Thomas Worthington senior Cameron Coleman (5-9, 180) should see time at running back.

Home-schooled junior center Ben Karst (5-9, 245) and Hilliard Bradley junior guard Josh Jacobs (6-2, 290) should anchor the offensive line.

"We have a little more speed and quickness than we've had in the past," Stier said. "We have a pretty good group of receivers, but we need to find someone to get them the ball."