If the respective head coaches' thoughts ring true, the Groveport Madison High School football team's visit to Westerville North on Friday, Aug. 26, to open the season could pit near-mirror images against each other.

If the respective head coaches' thoughts ring true, the Groveport Madison High School football team's visit to Westerville North on Friday, Aug. 26, to open the season could pit near-mirror images against each other.

Cruisers coach Bryan Schoonover and Warriors coach Scott Wetzel each complimented their opponents' strengths on the offensive and defensive lines and apparent physical and mental growth shown by key returnees.

"They have kids who are big and strong, and their quarterback (Julian Malone) is athletic," Schoonover said. "He's like having an extra running back in the backfield. They're going to want to set the tone by running the ball right at us."

"They are a very confident team, and you can tell they have played together for a while," Wetzel said. "They are big up front and they have good skill (position) guys. We will have our hands full with their defensive line. It is going to be a great test for us."

Quarterback Julian Schoon-over, running backs Malik Jolly and Corey Newman and slotback Izayeh Aekins are among the leaders of the Cruisers' spread offense, which averaged 17.1 points per game last year. They will face a North defense that lost most of its top playmakers from last year but returns safeties Brice Beverly and Zack Whaley and 6-foot-1, 290-pound sophomore defensive lineman Jeremiah Burton, among others.

"They are going to spread us out. I am not sure we want to get in a lot of one-on-one matchups with them," Wetzel said. "We had better be able to play well in space against them."

Malone returns for his second year under center behind an offensive line that returns tackles Derek Downs and John Hutson and guard Mason Hay. Last season, Malone completed 80 of 177 passes for 770 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 525 yards and six touchdowns on 113 carries.

"We will have to be able to contain Malone in the pocket and not let him do his thing," coach Schoonover said. "If he's running, he is dangerous."

Groveport is looking for its third win in as many years over North and fifth since 2010. The Cruisers beat the Warriors 28-7 last year.

This will be the first time during that stretch that Groveport and North have met in a season opener.

Both teams thrived on the run in last year's meeting, as the Cruisers ran for 378 yards and the Warriors rushed for 147. Malone was sacked five times, including twice by players who have returned in linebackers Jolly and RonRico Richards.

Groveport, which finished 4-6 last year, is seeking its first winning season since 2009.

Wetzel, who coached Big Walnut to the Division III state championship in 2007 and took over at North in January, is leading a program that went 0-10 last year and hasn't finished above .500 since 2004.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave