Jeremey Scally might have picked another destination for his first game as Upper Arlington football coach than Reynoldsburg, where the Raiders are looking to build on one of the best seasons in program history.
But Scally sees the Golden Bears' visit to the Raiders on Friday, Aug. 30, as a stiff test of what he and his coaching staff have been trying to implement since his hiring in January.
"(Reynoldsburg coach) Buddy White has them rolling. They know how to win and they're hungry. It's a heck of a first game for us, for sure," Scally said. "To state the obvious, they are athletic everywhere. Their offensive and defensive lines look really good. They're athletic, but they're also very physical, and you don't always hear those qualities put together. They check both boxes equally. They can run and they can hit."
Reynoldsburg is coming off a 10-2 season that included a share of the OCC-Ohio Division championship, which was the program's first league title since 1993, and a Division I, Region 2 semifinal appearance.
UA went 5-5 last season and missed the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Largely on the strength of 53- and 57-yard touchdown catches by Mershawn Rice, who now plays at Purdue, Reynoldsburg defeated UA 17-14 last year in the teams' first meeting since 2007.
Cornerback Isaiah Thomas, now a second-year starter as a senior, intercepted Bears quarterback Sammy Sass with less than a minute left to seal the win.
Scally pointed to safety Cocy Goff and defensive tackle Keyshaun Slaughter, who started as a freshman and recorded 26 tackles, as top players on the Raiders' defense.
"Their linebacker play is exceptional and (Goff) really stands out," Scally said.
"They'll spread you out offensively. They can run well and they can pass and they have athletes on the perimeter you have to worry about."
Reynoldsburg returns several important players on offense, including quarterbacks Dijon Jennings and Michael Whatley. Whatley completed 122 of 218 passes last year for 1,829 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Running back Courtland Bullard (59 carries, 356 yards, 4 TDs in 2018) and wide receiver Shon Strickland (27 catches, 408 yards, 5 TDs) also are among the returnees.
UA returns its top two running backs in Eli D'Herete and Chris Schweisthal, who combined for 1,484 yards and 15 touchdowns on 304 carries last year. Quarterback Jake Leve, who started the second half of last season after Sass suffered a season-ending broken collarbone, completed 44 of 91 passes for 469 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Bears' offensive line includes senior right tackle Sean McRae, who is entering his third season as a starter.
"I'm sure Jeremey is going to have those guys excited to play," White said.
"They're going to look at last year's film and see that they kept us from pulling away from them. They'll be coming in ready. We're going to be good again. I love how these guys are playing and how they are preparing, that's the most important thing. We've got good size and with our skill positions, we're really loaded."
The Bears and Raiders are scheduled to play again next year at Reynoldsburg to conclude a three-year deal.
"We've got six home games. We only had four last year, not counting (a first-round) playoff game (against Toledo Start), and it's because of our relationship with UA that we have six this year, because last year we both needed a home game," White said.
"So we said last year that they could have a home game, and we'll have UA here this year and next year."