Despite the Grove City High School football team's struggles in recent seasons, Hilliard Davidson coach Brian White knows the Wildcats always get the Dawgs' best effort.
The teams will meet in the opener for the ninth consecutive year Friday, Aug. 24, at Grove City.
The Wildcats have won seven of the previous eight meetings to lead the all-time series 40-32.
"They've done it every year against us," White said. "They come out Week 1 and they play us like they're going to go 10-0. They lose to us and they end up 1-9 or 0-10 the last couple of years and then we wonder how is that team that we played 1-9 because they play us so well."
Seeking its first winning season since 2013 when it went 6-4, Grove City is hoping to rebound from a 1-9 finish a year ago.
A team already dealing with an inexperienced roster took a major hit in the preseason when senior running back and defensive back Kingston McKinstry suffered an ACL injury in the opening scrimmage against Chillicothe. Second-year coach Tennyson Varney said McKinstry could miss the season.
"We are so young, it's unreal," Varney said. "This is probably the youngest football team I've ever coached as far as sophomores on the field. ... We're coaching as hard as we've ever coached. We're giving our kids a chance."
With McKinstry out, senior D.J. Gatewood is expected to receive most of the carries at running back. Gatewood missed most of his sophomore season after suffering a broken leg in the opener against Davidson and played mainly at linebacker last year with 2018 graduate Devin Dukes at running back after transferring in from Ready.
Junior Jake Burris emerged as the starting quarterback in the preseason, with junior Cole Crager expected to complement Gatewood at tailback and also see time at tight end.
Senior Ben McGue (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) is the lone returning starter on the offensive line.
"Grove City has some big guys," White said. "McGue is a big son of a gun. Gatewood is a tough, hard runner. If our guys don't use good technique he'll run over the top of you."
Grove City's defense took a hit with the loss of McKinstry at cornerback.
Varney said his team won't be surprised by Davidson's game plan, which again will rely heavily on the running game.
"We have to be positive," Varney said. "We have to move the football, give ourselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter, control the clock and don't give up big plays."
The Wildcats also are looking for a bounce-back season after finishing 5-5 last year and missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"As bad as we were last year, there is nobody we can overlook," White said. "(The Dawgs) do look young in some spots. It's big that McKinstry is out because he looks the part. He's a good looking kid and he's a returning starter."
Senior quarterback Carson Felicetty will direct Davidson's triple-option offense, with classmate Kalib O'Connor again as the featured running back. Last season, O'Connor rushed for a team-high 639 yards with two touchdowns.
White believes the strength of his team might be at linebacker, with seniors Evan Annis and Ethan Royer considered two of the top players in the area entering the season. Both have received interest from Division I college programs.
"We have two really good players on defense," White said. "Evan Annis and Ethan Royer are really good and they have to lead everybody else."