The Pickerington High School Central football team holds the advantage experience-wise heading into its opener Saturday, Aug. 27, against Cincinnati Elder.

The Pickerington High School Central football team holds the advantage experience-wise heading into its opener Saturday, Aug. 27, against Cincinnati Elder.

The Tigers have returned more than a dozen players who either started or took on key roles a year ago when they finished 8-3 and won a share of their 10th consecutive league championship.

Elder enters the matchup, which will be held at the University of Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium as part of the Skyline Chili Crosstown Showdown, with just three returning starters on offense and five key returnees on defense after going 9-4 last season.

The respect Tigers coach Jay Sharrett has for Elder goes back to 2008 when the Panthers beat Central 24-10 in a Division I, Region 3 state semifinal.

"It will be a brutal game, and physical," Sharrett said. "We like that kind of a big type of matchup. They've all been very business-like and they know what to expect. That big ballgame against Elder at Nippert Stadium puts a little bit more of a hop in (the players') step."

Defense figures to be Elder's strength with the return of senior defensive back Zach Lyons, senior linebackers Nick Niehaus, Lucas Downey and TiAriq Dailey and senior lineman Darnell Dawson.

Dailey, Lyons and Niehaus all were among the team's leaders in tackles last season, and Lyons had one interception.

The Tigers bring back senior Darius Coker at quarterback after he finished with 658 yards and seven touchdowns passing during a season in which he missed five games with injury.

Also back for the Tigers are senior Jermycole Graham and sophomore Terry Simuel at running back, although senior newcomer Morgan Ellison figures to be a key ball carrier as well. Ellison saw some action at Pickerington North as a sophomore but did not play last fall.

"He's a big addition," Coker said of the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Ellison, who has scholarship offers from Miami University and Toledo. "We're hoping to use him to get out there and catch passes."

Elder, which lost a pair of Division I recruits on defense to graduation in Joe Schroer (Ohio State) and Tommy Kraemer (Notre Dame), also will have a new look on offense.

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey is now at Indiana after throwing 26 touchdown passes and rushing for 1,232 yards a year ago, and the Panthers' top two receivers, Nick Hall (80 catches) and Robby Oswald (76 catches), also graduated.

Junior Jack Mazza figures to step in at running back for the Panthers after being a little-used backup last season, while senior Cole Carle and sophomore Michael Bittner battled for the quarterback job during the preseason.

Seniors Adam Schwallie and Ross Hambleton, who had 20 and nine receptions, respectively, last season, should lead Elder's wide receiver corps.

The only other returnee on offense for Elder is 6-4, 280-pound senior lineman Joe Bischoff.

Central, meanwhile, returns senior Kieren Douglas and junior Grey Brancifort at linebacker and juniors Xavier Henderson and Jeremiah Wood to the secondary.

Despite having the advantage in experience, Sharrett hopes his players take nothing for granted heading into the opener.

"One year we had 19 returning starters and went 6-4, but another year we had one-and-a-half starters back and went 10-0," Sharrett said. "In high school, (it's about) whoever shows up during two-a-days. Having back who we have has made the install (of our system) much smoother."