The Olentangy Liberty High School football team never has beaten Dublin Coffman.
The Patriots hope to change that when the teams meet Friday, Aug. 26, at Coffman in the opener for both teams.
Liberty, which opened in fall 2003, did not play the Shamrocks until 2008, and the Patriots lost 10-7. Coffman also won 52-0 in 2009 and 24-10 last season.
In all of those games, Coffman was led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, who is now playing at Clemson.
Last season, Stoudt completed 20 of 31 passes for 217 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown to another 2011 graduate, Connor Lucas. Coffman would finish 8-3, losing to Westerville South 28-14 in a first-round Division I, Region 3 playoff game.
The Shamrocks have the luxury of easing the transition for their new quarterback, junior James Walsh (6-foot-1, 181 pounds). They return three senior starters on the offensive line in tackle Joe Hackett (6-4, 240), guard Andrew Yerich (6-0, 241) and tight end Henry Kruse (6-2, 210), as well as starting running back Bilal Williamson (5-7, 185; 727 yards rushing, 8 touchdowns) and senior wide receiver Marcus Davis (5-10, 170; 53 catches, 680 yards, 5 touchdowns).
"Obviously, (the Shamrocks) have a very, very good program and they are blessed with very good football players who will be a challenge for us," Liberty coach Steve Hale said. "They are bigger than we are on the offensive and defensive lines and they have a new quarterback (Walsh) who has looked pretty impressive in the preseason."
Liberty finished 6-4 last season and missed the postseason for the first time since 2003. But the Patriots return five starters from a defense that held opponents to 14.7 points and 289.1 yards per game. The returnees are senior lineman Paul Campbell (5-10, 176) senior lineman Luke Flemming (6-1, 260), senior defensive back A.J. Motika (6-3, 175), senior defensive end Myles Robinson (5-11, 200) and junior linebacker Grant Cartwright (6-4, 220).
"Liberty has a pretty good program," Coffman coach Mark Crabtree said. "Coach Hale and his coaches do a really good job. They have a few guys back and I know they will be motivated because we have beaten them the last three seasons. We have had a couple of tough games."
The Coffman 4-3 defense has six starters back in senior linebackers Mitch Kraly (6-0, 200) and Kenny Kristan (5-10, 200), senior defensive backs Tre Scott (6-0, 182) and Taylor Williams (5-10, 168), and senior R.J. Cremeans (5-8, 237) and junior Miles McCollum (6-2, 232) on the line.
"(The Coffman) defense is very physical and aggressive," Hale said. "It's been a challenge for us to move the ball (against Coffman's defense in the past) and we'll need a solid week of practices for that to work for us."
The Patriots have to replace two key 2011 graduates in quarterback Taylor Hudson and running back Jeff Kemper. Hudson had 2,016 all-purpose yards and completed 129 of 239 passes for 1,712 yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last year, while Kemper ran for 747 yards on 128 carries with 11 touchdowns.
Juniors Joey Longhino (6-0, 170) and Ryan Sibert (6-4, 200) have been competing to play quarterback and senior Phil Osolinski (6-0, 180) earned a number of carries last season. Motika (6-3, 175) caught 51 passes for 819 yards and six touchdowns as a receiver.
"We can't have turnovers like we have had in the past that have hurt us (against Coffman)," Hale said. "We need to get some first downs and keep their high-powered offense off of the field. And, like always, you want to stay away from silly penalties that can really hurt your chances."