High school football coaches realize season openers rarely are picturesque.

High school football coaches realize season openers rarely are picturesque.

But as Whetstone coach Don Poff can attest, that doesn't stop the excitement for that first kickoff from escalating.

"Our final scrimmage (against Thomas Worthington) was at 7 p.m. on a Friday night (Aug. 21) under the lights and we ran the scrimmage just like a game to get the kids in that mode," Poff said. "But I tell you what, it affected our coaching staff as much as it did the players.

"We're all looking forward for that opening kickoff. Football is in the air. You can smell it. It's such a wonderful time."

The Braves, who finished 2-8 last season, will experience that kickoff at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, at Watkins Memorial in the first meeting between the programs.

The football likely will be in the air quite often when Whetstone has possession, as junior quarterback Jack Staggs will be throwing to all-state wide receiver Aidan Tuttle, Rozell Manley and others in the spread attack.

"Their quarterback and receiver were on the same page in the scrimmage against Westerville North (Aug. 15)," Watkins Memorial coach Jeff Severino said. "(Staggs) does a nice job getting the ball out and he has a nice arm and was impressive. (Tuttle) made a few very good catches."

Watkins Memorial, which went 8-3 and reached the Division II, Region 5 playoffs last season, is an experienced team with 26 letterwinners and 24 seniors. The Warriors compete in the Licking County League and face Granville, traditionally one of central Ohio's top passing teams, every year.

Ten starters have returned on Watkins Memorial's 4-2-5 defense that led the way last year, and first-year quarterback Westley Brandon will operate its slot/veer offense. The Warriors, who returned four offensive linemen, will rely on running back Kaleb Goad and a rotation of three slotbacks.

Whetstone is expecting to be much stronger on defense this year after playing mostly underclassmen last fall. The Braves lost five starters to graduation.

"I think they have three good linebackers on defense and some nice-sized kids," Severino said. "They also have speed and I was very interested to see that they maybe only had three guys going both ways, so they must feel good about their depth."

The Braves averaged 27.7 points per game last year, but allowed 39.6.

"We're still shuffling some guys around and we have to fine-tune some things, but we played as well as we expected to (in the scrimmage against Thomas)," Poff said. "We've seen some film on Watkins and we think we have some good matchups. We have some athleticism that they might not anticipate.

"But they have some as well. We need to shut down their inside running game. They're disciplined and run the ball well. We'll need our 'A' game."

Volleyball team starts behind schedule

The girls volleyball team returned six players who earned starts last season, when it finished 11-12 overall and 8-6 in the City League-North Division to place fourth behind Centennial (14-0), Columbus International (11-3) and Northland (11-3).

However, the Braves didn't get much work in during the summer, according to 37th-year coach Errole Rembert.

"We had no gym all summer long because they were reconditioning the floor and painting the walls and just sprucing the gym up," he said. "We tried to seek other gyms, but had little success finding any. We competed in a summer league, so we did play, but we couldn't work on things or get any practices in. So we're about two weeks behind schedule."

Whetstone opened Aug. 22, going 2-1 in the Panther Classic at Linden-McKinley. The Braves defeated South 25-12, 25-16 and Linden 25-17, 25-12 and lost to Grove City Christian 25-17, 25-12.

The Braves begin league play Thursday, Aug. 27, at home against East.

"South beat us at least four times in the summer league and we got buried by Grove City Christian," Rembert said. "But we've had some practice now, and even though we're behind where we should be, we were pleased with the way we played (Aug. 22)."

Senior Jill McCarter (middle hitter), juniors Stephanie Jackson (weakside hitter/setter), Allie McKeel (back row) and Sydney McKeel (back row) and sophomores Hannah Reed (setter) and Whitney Staggs (middle hitter) each saw time as a starter last year.

Jackson was named second-team all-league last season.

"Staggs is only 5-foot-9, but she's our best middle hitter, best attacker and blocker at the net," Rembert said. "She's also serving well. Jackson is our No. 1 setter and hits well at weakside and Reed is our No. 2 setter who can play all the way around."

Other returning letterwinners are seniors Ila Boley (outside hitter) and Ryleigh Porter (setter) and junior Dezeray Secovia (back row).

Rounding out the roster are senior Adrionna Mills (outside hitter), juniors Rachel Mohler (weakside hitter) and Aidan Staz (back row) and sophomores Angel Bagley (outside hitter), Lila Geiger (back row) and Sophia McLemore (outside hitter). Mills played as a sophomore but did not play last season.

"We're still going to be young," Rembert said. "Bagley will start at outside hitter to join Reed and Staggs to give us three sophomore starters and we could end up with a fourth. Bagley is one of our better passers."