The Olentangy Orange football team has a lot of experience returning from last season when it finished 7-4 and is looking to make a fourth consecutive trip to the postseason under sixth-year coach Zebb Schroeder.
Worthington Kilbourne, meanwhile, would just like to see improvement under first-year coach Mike Edwards after finishing 1-9 a year ago.
But Schroeder doesn't want his Pioneers to fixate on what the Wolves did last year when the teams meet in the season opener Friday, Aug. 30, at Kilbourne.
"Kilbourne has a great tradition and they're excited to see what they've got, so they'll have strong support there," said Schroeder, whose team beat Kilbourne 27-26 in last season's opener. "You can say it's 7-4 versus 1-9, but those were last year's teams and we struggled to beat them last year.
"I don't think our guys will be thinking about it like that. We've got a mature group that has significant Friday night experience and they're going to set the tone for our young guys."
Edwards is challenging his team to start strong.
"This is a great opportunity for our young guys," he said. "We get to see how we stack up against a recently established power. This may be a transition year for us, but we'll find out immediately who is hungry to get after it and try to bring this power back to glory.
"Orange has the type of program we want to get back to being. Zebb respects the game, is a positive person and a good man who has built a winning culture. They know how to win and they expect to win."
Schroeder said a spate of preseason injuries has kept the Pioneers from jelling. He wasn't sure if some projected starters would open the season on the field.
"I think we'll have everyone back for Kilbourne, but I can't say for sure," Schroeder said. "But it has prevented us from working a lot as starting units. The plus side of that is we have been able to develop some depth and get a closer look at some of the young guys and they've made an impression."
Although Orange senior quarterback Spencer Hawkins is a first-year starter, he doesn't look the part, according to Schroeder.
"He's our fourth quarterback in four years, but he's taken in the offense for three years and waited in the wings and now it's his turn," Schroeder said. "We're excited about his progress."
Senior running back Jake Vanchieri rushed for 766 yards and six touchdowns on 159 carries last season and is one of nine starters back on offense for Orange. Alex Lopez returns at fullback and Zane Lattig (25 catches, 301 yards) is the top returning wide receiver.
Orange has returned five starters on defense, led by linebackers Zach Hill and Eli Payne and cornerbacks Reece Dunham and Joey Guagenti.
"(The Pioneers) have a ton of talent and discipline and they won't beat themselves," Edwards said. "Offensively, they like to get physical and eat the clock. Defensively, they sit in a 30-stack and just play their roles."
Kilbourne is expected to be led defensively by linebackers Carter Haase and Ethan Loring, safety Manny Herraiz and linemen Josh Carter, Luke Brown, Hayden Shaffer and Jacob Keslar.
Offensively for the Wolves, junior Mitchell Tomasek will start at quarterback, Terrique Gray and Caleb Andrick are expected to share time at running back and Sam English, Riley Lewis and Tyler Turner are expected to be the team's top receivers, with Carter, Shaffer and Chinny Ndife leading the way up front.
"Their quarterback looks solid and in control and can run and throw the ball and their running back (Gray) impresses me with his soft feet and good cuts," Schroeder said. "Overall, they seem to be having fun and playing fast."