A new era in Westerville Central High School football kicks off Friday, Aug. 24, when the Warhawks visit Whitehall-Yearling.
Longtime assistant coach Brent Morrison has taken over for John Magistro, who stepped down after nine seasons and moved on to Olentangy to serve as linebackers coach under Mark Solis.
Central is hoping to bounce back from a pair of 4-6 seasons and reach the postseason for the first time since 2015.
It will be the first meeting between the programs.
"Like the kids, I'm excited for that first game when Friday night lights actually count," Morrison said.
Although there has been a change at the top, Morrison doesn't expect too much to change with the team's offensive scheme.
The Warhawks again will run a spread offense, with senior quarterback LaBronz Davis II leading the way. After 2018 graduate Isaiah Healy injured his shoulder in Week 8 last season, Davis passed 412 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the final two games.
Seniors Justin Carter and Tariq Stewart should share time at tailback in place of 2018 graduate Allen Smith. Last season, Smith rushed for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns on 210 carries and was named first-team all-district and honorable mention all-state in Division I.
"This is going to be a tremendous challenge," Whitehall coach Rod Lightfoot said. "They have tremendous size. Their receivers are tall, they have some good size and they get off the ball really well. The offensive line seems to be working together pretty well."
Lightfoot came away impressed while scouting Central senior defensive end Dontay Hunter II, who has committed to Purdue.
Hunter should lead the Warhawks' 3-3 stack defense.
"He has some great size and he moves really well," Lightfoot said. "He's going to be a force on the edge that we have to contend with. It's going to be a tremendous challenge for us, but they'll meet it head on. Hopefully we can work together and be productive."
Whitehall, a Division II program that went 7-4 last season, is seeking its third consecutive postseason appearance under Lightfoot.
"They were a playoff team last year and the majority of their guys are back," Morrison said. "They had a chance to win their (first-round) playoff game against New Albany at the end (before losing 42-35), so I feel this is going to be a true test of our team."
The Rams also should feature an explosive spread offense led by senior quarterback Raymell Byrd. He rushed for 1,628 yards and 24 touchdowns and passed for 1,131 yards and 14 scores last season and was named first-team all-district and third-team all-state.
Senior running back Rasheed Muhammad rushed for 823 yards and four touchdowns and was second-team all-district.
The Rams should be boosted by senior running back and linebacker Wayne Blackshear, who played at Whitehall as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Groveport for his junior season.
The defense also returns several key players, including senior middle linebacker Keon Freeman, who last season led the Rams in tackles (130) and tied 2018 graduate Kendall Nesbitt for the lead in sacks (7).
"The quarterback looks pretty explosive, especially when he's running the ball and the linebacker (Freeman) looks pretty good," Morrison said. "They use him as a blocking back on offense. Containing their quarterback is a big key. It's also important for us to start fast, play hard and get moving right out of the gate."