Leading up to Friday's opener between the Thomas Worthington High School football team and Jonathan Alder, the disparity in size isn't lost on players and coaches.

Leading up to Friday's opener between the Thomas Worthington High School football team and Jonathan Alder, the disparity in size isn't lost on players and coaches.

Thomas is a Division I school, and Jonathan Alder competes in Division IV.

The success of each program over the past 10 years also isn't lost among the participants.

The Pioneers are seeking their ninth-consecutive playoff appearance, including a state final in 2006. Thomas has posted nine consecutive losing seasons and has produced just two winning records since 1989. However, the Cardinals have steadily shown improvement under third-year coach Scott Gordon.

"We love the challenge of playing the big schools, and it definitely makes us a better team," Pioneers' senior linebacker Nathan Richards said. "We're not going to look at them any differently than we would look at a school our size."

The Cardinals have struggled against lower-divison opponents in the past, most recently in losses to Olentangy and Olentangy Liberty, both Division II, last season. Thomas lost its 2007 opener to Division III state champion Big Walnut 41-6. Jonathan Alder defeated Division II-foes Dayton Thurgood Marshall and St. Charles, but hasn't faced a Division I opponent this decade.

Stopping Thomas requires a game plan that can slow an offense which relies heavily on a passing attack led by senior quarterback Sam Bohon and receivers Collin Lisi and Dustin Cowgill.

Alder will counter with its 50 defense led by Richards, Dylan Craig, Donald Thomas and Josh Davis, who has comitted to Purdue.

Four returning starters anchor the secondary including first-team all-district cornerback Aaron Dunlap.

"They're one of those oddities that is Division IV but play like they're Division I," Thomas coach Scott Gordon said. "Every year they've got a lot of athletic players that can play anywhere and it's made them a very solid program."

Jonathan Alder coach Steve Coate said his offense will use mutliple offensive sets, including the spread option and one-back, along with the I-formation for short-yardage situations. Sophomore Nick Wrightsel and junior Austin Dehart will share carries. Quarterback Graham Johnston will target wide receivers Jarrod Stahl, Vince Palmer and Tayler Yutzy.

The Cardinals must shut down the run with their defensive line.

For Thomas, the importance of a good start is magnified by last year's early-season struggles. The Cardinals lost each of their first three games by less than a touchdown en route to a losing streak that reached six before beating Westland. They finished 2-8. The Pioneers' road to the postseason would become signficantly more difficult with an opening loss. After Thomas, the Pioneers play host to Canal Winchester, then travel to play Clarksville Clinton-Massey.

"Every week, you're trying to keep players from looking ahead and focus on the one game in front of them," Coate said. "I think both teams will be focused because everybody's had the offseason and the practice time and you're just ready to get on with it."

Season Preview

To read the season previews for all area football teams, pick up a copy of the Friday Night Live '09 Central Ohio High School Football Preview, presented by Grange Insurance. The 112-page guide is now available at the following sites:

Nearby Grange Insurance offices:

•Montana Insurance Agency, 1311 Worthington Woods Blvd., Worthington

Nearby Buffalo Wings & Rings restaurants:

•8661 Columbus Pike, Lewis Center