Coach Matt Kregel remembers last season's opener for his Perrysburg High School football team against Dublin Coffman all too well.
It was the first meeting between the programs, and the Yellow Jackets not only lost 45-0 to the visiting Shamrocks, but they came away with a noticeable limp that would last for several weeks.
Kregel threw a young, inexperienced group out to face Coffman a year ago, but when Perrysburg travels to Dublin on Friday, Aug. 24, for this season's opener, he hopes for a better outcome with a more experienced lineup.
"(The Shamrocks) were a big and experienced football team, and it showed when we played them," said Kregel, whose team finished 4-6 last season. "We got banged up against Coffman last year and didn't recover until Week 5 or 6. We can't let that happen again.
"Everyone wants to start fast and get a win against a quality opponent. The big thing for us is to, one, stay healthy, and two, come out playing well. You might not win, but if you do good things, you don't have to go back to the drawing board."
Junior Drew Simms is in his third season as starting quarterback in Perrysburg's spread attack. Injuries forced him into action as a freshman. Last fall, he completed 163 of 320 passes for 2,153 and 18 touchdowns after throwing for 1,125 yards and 14 scores in 2016.
His top target is senior wide receiver Ian Riddle (34 catches, 475 yards), and the Yellow Jackets' leading rusher from a year ago also returns in junior Caleb Gerken (181 carries, 754 yards, 10 touchdowns). In all, eight starters are back on offense, including four linemen.
"I know they have virtually everyone back," said Coffman coach Mark Crabtree, whose team finished 8-3 last season, losing to Olentangy 28-24 in the first round of the Division I, Region 2 playoffs. "They had nine seniors last year and only four of them played much."
Senior defensive end Carl Conley (team-leading 89 tackles, 5 sacks) and senior linebacker Griffin Pendry (87 tackles) are back to lead Perrysburg's 4-3 defense. Sophomore defensive tackle Cade Zimmerly (36 tackles, 3 sacks) also returns.
"Our defensive front is probably our best area now," Kregel said. "Cade Zimmerly is only a sophomore, but he already is the strongest kid I have coached in my 27 years, and we're pretty good at linebacker as well."
The Yellow Jackets will look to stop Coffman's spread offense, fueled by junior slotback Mike Drennen, a Division I college recruit who missed all but four games last fall with a foot injury. Senior Ethan Brown is a first-year starter at quarterback, while the Shamrocks' leading receiver returns in senior Alex Dluzynski (18 receptions, 238 yards).
"We lost a lot of people and we're learning a lot about our team," Crabtree said. "You have scrimmages and practices, but a lot of times it's hard to get a good gauge before the first game."
Coffman returns seven starters from its 3-4 defense, including sophomore A.J. Kirk, the step-brother of former Ohio State and NFL standout Michael Doss. Kirk is back in the secondary after recording 40 tackles and two interceptions last season. Other returnees include senior defensive back Kameron Meadows (49 tackles, 4 interceptions) and senior Dustin Drye (56 tackles, 2 interceptions), who will be a hybrid linebacker/cornerback.
"No. 1, the goal is to win the (opening) game," Crabtree said. "No matter how you do it, you need to win the game.
"There will be moments when you look good and moments when you look not so good. We want to make sure our players are prepared for it mentally and physically. That's what we're after."