To say the Upper Arlington High School football team faces a major test in its opener might be an understatement.

To say the Upper Arlington High School football team faces a major test in its opener might be an understatement.

The Golden Bears play defending national champion Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas at noon Saturday at Ohio State's Ohio Stadium as part of the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series. The game will be televised live on ESPN.

"We all grew up watching the Buckeyes, so it's definitely a privilege to play in Ohio Stadium," Bears free safety and wingback Mark McClain said.

The event includes three other games: Hilliard Davidson-Westerville South (3:30 p.m. Saturday), Dublin Coffman-Olentangy Liberty (12 p.m. Sunday) and Pickerington Central-Orange (Calif.) Lutheran (3:30 p.m. Sunday). All three will be broadcast live on ESPNU.

"It's great for Upper Arlington football and great for the kids," UA coach Mike Golden said. "How many times do you get to play in Ohio Stadium?"

Aquinas won 24 consecutive games and was ranked No. 1 in the nation by seven media outlets, including USA Today, ESPN RISE FAB 50, PrepNation and RivalsHigh 100, in the final prep rankings last season. The Raiders were 15-0 and won their second second Florida Class 5A state title in a row. They outscored their opponents 695-117 and only three opponents scored more than 10 points.

"They won the mythical national championship last year, so it's going to be a real challenge," said Golden, whose team replaced 14 regular starters from a year ago. "We'll find out where we stand."

Eleven players on Aquinas' roster last season signed with Division I college programs, including wide receiver Duron Carter, the son of former Buckeyes standout receiver Cris Carter. Duron Carter followed his father to OSU.

But the Raiders remain loaded with talent. Kicker Mike Palardy made a verbal commitment to Tennessee, and according to longtime Raiders coach George Smith, many more players are expected to continue their careers at the Division I level.

"Could be 10, could be 11," Smith said. "That type of number. We'll see."

Offensively, Aquinas is led by 5-foot-8, 200-pound senior running back Giovanni Bernard, who last year rushed for 1,528 yards on 160 carries (9.6 yards per carry) and scored 18 touchdowns. According to, nine Division I programs, including Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, already have made him a scholarship offer.

Bernard's backup may be just as talented. James White, a 5-11, 195-pound senior, rushed for 933 yards on 127 carries (7.3 yards per carry) last year and 18 touchdowns. He also had 17 receptions for 184 yards and three touchdowns. lists 14 schools as having offered White a scholarship.

Other key players on offense include linemen Brandon Linder (6-6, 275) and Jermaine Barton (6-7, 280), receivers Phil Dorsett (5-9, 170) and Lamarcus Joyner (5-8, 170) and quarterbacks Turner Baty (6-2, 190) and Jake Rudock (6-2, 175). As of last week, Baty, a move-in from California, and Rudock still were competing for the starting job.

"They run a lot out of the spread," Golden said. "But when they pass, they're looking for a big play. Our strategy is to get control of the clock. We want to control the ball and keep their offense off the field."

To do so, the Bears need solid performances from several players at skilled positions who will be making their first varsity start, including quarterback Kyle Cassady, tight end Will Jones and a running back corps that includes George Barouxis, Drew Karram and Eric Krack.

The strength of Aquinas' defense may be its secondary, which is led by Joyner and Cody Riggs (5-11, 170). ranks Joyner second and Riggs fourth among cornerback prospects in the nation.

According to that same Web site, Joyner, who had 106 tackles, four sacks and four interceptions last year at Miami Southridge, already has 21 offers. The Sporting News ranks him the fourth-best prospect regardless of position.

Riggs, the son of former NFL running back Gerald Riggs, led the Raiders with eight interceptions and 25 pass-breakups a year ago. lists him with 12 offers so far. Other key players on defense are safety Brian Robinson (6-0, 190), linebackers John Baglia (6-1, 215) and Vinnie Mauro (6-2, 215) and lineman Matt Stokes (6-2, 250).

"They have a lot of Division I kids -- college BCS-type kids -- on both sides of the ball," Golden said.

Smith, who was named National Coach of the Year by USA Today last year and enters his 33rd season at Aquinas with a 333-65 record and five state championships, expects a physical contest.

"(UA has) extremely tough kids," he said. "They hustle and play hard. They look like football is important to them. I think playing Upper Arlington right there in Columbus will be quite a challenge."

Aquinas is taking part in the Herbstreit series for the second year in a row. The Raiders defeated Cincinnati Elder 35-24 last season at Paul Brown Stadium.

Golden said the hype surrounding the game makes it feel "like a state championship-type game." But, regardless of the outcome, he doesn't want the contest to define his team's season. After all, there are nine other games on the schedule.

"We can't make it the focus of our season," he said.

"It's definitely a big game," McClain said. "But it's one game. We won't let (the outcome) affect us one way or the other."