The Hartley High School football team had more on its mind than just repetition throughout this year's preseason.
With scrimmages against Reynoldsburg on Aug. 7 and Dublin Jerome on Aug. 15, the Hawks faced a pair of Division I programs that have numbers and physical size among their assets.
On Aug. 11, the Hawks got in 164 plays during a four-team scrimmage that also featured Canal Winchester, Eastmoor Academy and Westerville South.
It was all with an eye on being prepared for a first-half schedule that includes Toledo Central Catholic on Friday, Aug. 24, defending Division V state champion Wheelersburg on Aug. 31 and 2017 Division IV state runner-up Clarksville Clinton-Massie on Sept. 21.
Central Catholic, which will play host to Hartley in a rematch of a contest the Irish won 35-16 on the road to open last season, was a Division III state semifinalist a year ago.
"(The first two games are) why we felt like we needed to scrimmage a four-way," coach Brad Burchfield said. "Every team is a little different and you need to see a lot of different looks. ... You see a lot of cramping (in) Week 1 because the kids have never seen the intensity. When they play good people, they understand how difficult it is to beat somebody really good. It's hard."
The Irish went 11-3 last year and have moved up to Division II this season, while the Hawks finished 11-2 a year ago and will compete in Division III, Region 11 for the second consecutive season.
Both teams have been among the state's top programs in recent years, with the Irish having made 14 consecutive playoff appearances and the Hawks having made eight in a row. Both have won three state titles and finished as state runner-up during their current playoff runs.
"You know what you're going to get when you play Hartley," said Greg Dempsey, who is in his 19th season as Central Catholic's coach. "They do what they do and do it well. They're physical and creative and their kids have bought into the system. There's a Hartley way of doing things. It's fun to go against them every year.
"Our kids embrace the expectations they have for themselves and they know you need to put in that kind of effort, probably similarly to Hartley."
The Hawks' offense is built around senior split end Phillip Cole, junior running backs Jalan January, Mason Sawyer and Angelo Evans and junior quarterback Miles Fleming. Last season, Cole scored five touchdowns and had 707 yards combined rushing and receiving.
In addition, Hartley has a Division I college recruit at tight end in Jordan Kirkbride.
That group will going against a Central Catholic defense led by senior middle linebacker Justin Schiets, who has received interest from Earlham, Urbana and Case Western and is in his third season as a starter.
Senior strong safety Alfred Dailey and senior cornerback Jaron Swain also are returning starters on the Irish's defense. Senior Dylan Hillesheim is a defensive end who also has received college interest.
Central Catholic's top athlete is senior Jase Bowen, a wide receiver and defensive back who has committed to Michigan State. Last season, he had 504 yards and nine touchdowns on 73 carries and 16 receptions for 395 yards and five scores. He also returned a punt for a touchdown and averaged 36.1 yards per punt, with 20 finishing inside the 20-yard line.
Senior quarterback Troy Durden also returns for the Irish after finishing 41-for-129 passing for 778 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for 558 yards and four touchdowns on 147 carries.
Seniors Vinnie Klempner (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) and Nehemiah Cannon (6-3, 265) are returning starters on the offensive line.
"I don't know that I can emphasize their strength, speed and coaching," Burchfield said. "They're the combination of everything, and that's why we scrimmaged Reynoldsburg. We needed to scrimmage somebody that looked like that. Toledo Central Catholic is as well-coached as any team in the state of Ohio. They beat us last year and know us like the back of their hand."