Fear is never an option for the Pickerington High School Central football team when it comes to its schedule.
The last several years, the Tigers have made it a regular part of their agenda to travel early in the season to face high-powered opponents, including making trips to Indianapolis and to events like the Crosstown Chili Showdown in Cincinnati, the Backyard Blitz in the Dayton area and the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic at Ohio State.
In 2011, Central opened with back-to-back losses, falling to Cincinnati powers Moeller and St. Xavier but won its final seven games of the regular season and went on to finish as Division I state runner-up.
The toughest opener to date, though, could be this season.
The Tigers will take on the defending Division I state champion from Michigan, Detroit Cass Tech, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, at the University of Toledo. The Technicians went 14-0 last season, while Central finished 12-2.
"We're the only game there that night on a Thursday," coach Jay Sharrett said. "We saw that Cass Tech was open and we just want to make it enjoyable for their kids and our kids. It's about one hour for them and three hours for us. They've put (17) guys in the NFL and they've played in some big matchups in the past. We'll play anybody, anywhere, anytime."
Senior Jeremiah Wood, who figures to be a key running back as well as a starter in the secondary, expects the Tigers to grow from their opener as they did a year ago when they beat Cincinnati Elder 20-14 at the University of Cincinnati to open the season.
"Last year coming down to (Cincinnati), we got a win," Wood said. "Going up to Toledo, we're expecting the same thing."
Cass Tech, which has produced players such as former Ohio State standout Vernon Gholston and current Buckeyes running back Mike Weber, has college-bound players scattered throughout its roster.
Senior cornerback Kalon Gervin (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) has 41 scholarship offers and has committed to Notre Dame, and senior safety DeAndre Square (6-1, 200) is a Kentucky commit.
Also on defense, senior outside linebacker Dyontae Johnson (6-2, 191) and senior end Andre Carter (6-4, 237) have committed to Toledo and Western Michigan, respectively.
On the other side of the ball, senior quarterback Aaron Jackson (6-2, 210) and senior wide receiver Brandon Gray (6-5, 185) lead the way. Jackson has committed to Eastern Michigan and Gray is a Washington State commit.
Gray and junior running back Arthur Nichols (5-11, 200), who rushed for 1,328 yards and eight touchdowns last season, both transferred during the offseason from Southfield (Michigan) A&T.
Junior running back Jaren Mangham (6-1, 212) and junior cornerback and wide receiver Xavier Goldsmith (5-8, 160) each has more than 20 offers.
Central has a slew of college recruits as well, with senior wide receiver Xavier Henderson and senior tight end Trenton Gillison both having committed to Michigan State and senior tight end Alex Morgan having pledged to Toledo. In addition, Wood and junior defensive lineman DeWayne Carter both have 11 offers to Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
With sophomore Demeatric Crenshaw taking over at quarterback and Wood, senior Grey Brancifort and junior Jamir Jackson among the group of running backs, the Tigers are hoping to pick up where they left off last season when they averaged 29.9 points.
"We've been running the ball very well (in the preseason)," Sharrett said.
"It would be nice to come out and establish the running game and then go into your play-action passing game and then go into your passing game. These kids know that the only thing that matters is Cass Tech."