The Whitehall-Yearling and Westerville Central football teams both expect a stern test when they open the season Friday, Aug. 30, at Central.
The teams met for the first time last year, with the Warhawks winning 19-6.
Both went on to reach the playoffs, with Whitehall losing to Massillon Washington 35-17 in a Division II, Region 7 semifinal to finish 10-2 and Central falling to Dublin Coffman 27-10 in a Division I, Region 2 first-round game to finish 5-6.
"(Central) coach (Brent) Morrison has done a tremendous job over there," Whitehall coach Rod Lightfoot said. "He's got one of the top teams in central Ohio, if not Ohio itself. He's got quite a group of kids over there."
The Rams have moved to Division II, Region 8 while the Warhawks now are in Division I, Region 3.
"We have a ton of respect for Whitehall," Morrison said. "We played a pretty close game last season and that was their only regular-season loss of the year. They ended up playing 12 weeks. Coach Lightfoot did some really good things last season. We're looking forward to having them coming to Westerville and face them on our home turf."
Both teams will have a new look at quarterback after losing last year's starter to graduation. Senior Ni'Kai Cameron has replaced Raymell Byrd at Whitehall, and sophomore Judah Holtzclaw has replaced LaBronz Davis II at Central.
Byrd, who is now playing at Ashland, was named ThisWeek's Super 25 captain after rushing for 1,784 yards and 26 touchdowns and passing for 1,109 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Davis, who is now playing at Bowling Green, passed for 1,617 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Senior Melvin Tinsley, who was first-team all-district and third-team all-state at defensive back, should be a featured tailback for the Rams in their spread offense. Senior Juvaun Blackshear is another key running back.
Senior Stephuan Ellis is the only returning starter on the offensive line.
John Stuckey, who played defensive back last season, should be a key contributor at linebacker.
"Whitehall typically is going to have a very athletic team," Morrison said. "We also have a very athletic team, so we match up very well against them. Obviously, with the quarterback being gone from last year -- he was a major threat -- so we're looking forward to getting some film and getting eyes on the guys that they have."
Central's spread offense should be led by senior Rickey Hyatt, who rushed for 470 yards and five touchdowns after converting from receiver to tailback late last season. Also a safety, he had 94 tackles and three interceptions.
Senior Zeke Healy is the fullback and a key receiver is junior Luke Swaney, who led the Warhawks in receiving last season with 20 catches for 430 yards and six touchdowns.
In addition to focusing on Central, Lightfoot is concerned with his team's progress because of graduation losses.
"We're so different from last year," he said.
"We have to worry about ourselves and just worry about fundamentals. We'll take a look at what Central does scheme-wise and we'll make those adjustments if needed, but we're just trying to figure out the Rams' football program and get that back to where we're used to. We're young and we have kids who are trying to figure it out, but we're taking baby steps."