Although both programs lost several key players to graduation, the Gahanna Lincoln and Westerville Central high school football teams again enter the season with postseason aspirations.

Although both programs lost several key players to graduation, the Gahanna Lincoln and Westerville Central high school football teams again enter the season with postseason aspirations.

Their opener Friday, Aug. 26, at Gahanna will be the third meeting between the programs, with Central winning the opener last season 28-21 in overtime at home and Gahanna winning at Central 38-21 in a Division I, Region 3 first-round playoff game in 2011.

"We're going to find out how good of a football team we are because Gahanna is going to have some good football players," said Central coach John Magistro, whose team finished 10-2 last fall.

Central has played in the postseason the past three seasons and four of the last five years, and Gahanna has made postseason appearances the past two years.

Gahanna's Bruce Ward will not be coaching the opener because of a two-game suspension to start the season.

Ward has been a part of his team's preparation for the season and is well aware of the Warhawks' potential.

"Traditionally they've got one of the better teams in central Ohio," he said. "They've got some guys to replace, too, but I know what a great coach (Magistro) is and he'll have them ready. We've got to limit our mistakes."

Key graduation losses for Central include Gavin Lyon at quarterback and Benny Snell at running back.

Snell, who now is playing at the University of Kentucky, rushed for 1,826 yards and 26 touchdowns on 247 carries last season. He was named first-team all-state, the district Offensive Player of the Year and the OCC-Cardinal co-Player of the Year along with Dublin Jerome quarterback Zack Hazlett.

Senior Winston Milton and junior Allen Smith, a transfer from St. Charles, were the leading candidates in the preseason to share carries in the backfield.

A quarterback competition developed in the preseason between senior Wilson Misiuk and junior Isaiah Healy. Magistro said the two could share time until one emerges as the starter.

The Lions also have dealt with graduation losses, including last season's district Defensive Player of the Year in Jonathon Cooper and their entire starting offense from a team that finished 7-4, but they return senior standout linebacker Cael Baker and have been aided on offense by sophomore move-in Michael Lowery.

A competition for the starting quarterback position developed in the preseason between junior David Miller and Lowery, who joined the program in June, with Ward announcing earlier this week that Lowery would start against Central.

Lowery threw for 1,646 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season for Pickerington North.

"If you've followed (Gahanna) the last two years, they've done real well," Magistro said. "They're a spread team. They have a couple new quarterbacks this year just like we do. Defensively, they're always sound. They play hard-nosed football and they have speed."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank