Marion-Franklin High School football coach Brian Haffele and his longtime friend, Central Crossing coach Trevor White, have exchanged some friendly trash talk in advance of their season opener Friday, Aug. 24.
But for White, the bottom line is that the Comets will begin their second season with him in charge with a litmus test on the road against a perennial playoff contender.
"It's a great test," White said. "This is probably one of the best teams we will see all year, and it's a good chance to see where we are especially after losing to them last year (36-25). Right now, a lot of teams are still seeing what they have. We'll see how we stack up against a good, physical team."
Central Crossing is coming off a 4-6 season.
Marion-Franklin went 8-3 a year ago, losing to eventual state runner-up Dresden Tri-Valley 27-18 in the first round of the Division III, Region 11 playoffs. The Red Devils have made the playoffs 12 times in the past 14 seasons.
Haffele had serious concerns about the Red Devils' collective health last week.
"Our kicking was good and that was about it," he said of an Aug. 15 scrimmage at Beechcroft. "We're on our fourth-string running back and we ran five backs out there (Aug. 15). The guys are just dinged up and we're trying to put the pieces together. Fifteen kids did not practice (Aug. 14) and I am sure that affected us against Beechcroft.
"It's a numbers thing, too. We had 120 kids when I got here in 2004. We have 40 kids now. You do what you can with that."
Marion-Franklin lost its projected starting running back in July when Maleek McIntosh was injured in a 7-on-7 against Hilliard Davidson. The Red Devils return quarterback Ke'Zion Brown, a senior who completed 98 of 194 passes for 1,798 yards and 23 touchdowns last year, and senior wide receiver/cornerback Deonte' Wade, who caught 27 passes for 369 yards and five touchdowns and made five interceptions.
Senior wide receiver Dorian Holloway, a transfer from Africentric, also is expected to contribute.
"It's easy to see how strong and physical they are," White said. "We know what we will get from Marion-Franklin. Their skill (position) players have the potential to make huge plays. (Brown) is a scrambling threat."
Seniors Daniel Ewald, Aaron Reasoner and Jon Tiegler and junior Jaden Woodrick anchor a deep group of linebackers for Central Crossing. Reasoner made a team-high 110 tackles last year.
Haffele also is concerned about senior running back Pierre France, who rushed for a team-best 384 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries in 2017.
"Everybody knows about (France); he's really good," Haffele said. "The linebackers are the strength of their defense. As a team, they're bigger than last year. Trevor is a big weight-room guy; that's a huge emphasis for him. Their overall physicality is better. Their pass rushing is something we'll have to account for. It's pretty good."
Getting off to a fast start would be especially welcome for the Comets, who are 1-14 all-time in season openers. Central Crossing's only 1-0 start came in 2014 with a 58-27 win over Mount Vernon.
White has a 2-4 lifetime record against Haffele, a close friend since the two attended Groveport in the mid-1990s.
The two schools currently are not scheduled to open against each other in 2019. Central Crossing will play Dublin Jerome and Marion-Franklin does not yet have an opening-night opponent scheduled.