Among the many benefits of Pickerington Central being one of the final squads still standing in Division I year after year is what happens once official practices start in August.

The Tigers always seem to pick up where they left off, even after a season in which they lost 28 players to graduation, including major-college recruits DeWayne Carter (Duke) and Karter Johnson (TCU).

Over the past three seasons, Central has played 43 games, and some of the key seniors have been involved in nearly all of them.

Having what amounts to nearly an entire extra regular season over the last two years -- when the Tigers went 14-1 to win the Division I state championship in 2017 and 11-3 last fall while reaching a state semifinal for the second time in three seasons -- provides extra practice for the younger players as well.

"With 43 games under our belt in the last three seasons, I feel we're up to the task," senior linebacker Dom Marasco said. "Great players move on, but our same great coaching staff is on the sideline."

Also back are players including seniors Ty Hamilton and Demeatric Crenshaw and junior Lorenzo Styles Jr. as well as Marasco, who now will be asked to take on leading roles.

Hamilton is an Ohio State commit, Crenshaw has offers from numerous Football Bowl Subdivision programs and Styles Jr. is among the state's top recruits in the 2021 class.

In addition to that talent, however, coach Jay Sharrett believes the camaraderie built during long postseason runs has helped set his program apart the past few years.

The Tigers' reputation helped them get invited to the Freedom Bowl in Milton, Georgia, where they will open Aug. 30 against a Winter Park (Florida) team that went 10-2 last season.

The rest of the non-league features a pair of strong programs from Indiana in Columbus East (Sept. 6 away) and Naperville Central (Sept. 13 at home), as well as Hilliard Davidson (Sept. 27 at home), which went 11-2 last season with a pair of tight losses to the Tigers.

"When we start talking about this in June, that this is going to go into November if we take care of our business, you get to know their families more and the players interpersonally, and sure you enjoy the times when things are good," Sharrett said. "This is a team that shows signs of having 43 varsity games under their belts."

OFFENSE

The offense starts with Crenshaw, a dual-threat quarterback who has started since his sophomore season. He finished 71-for-139 passing for 1,115 yards with 14 touchdowns while also rushing for 499 yards and eight scores last season.

Styles Jr. was the team's leader in receptions and finished with six touchdowns, and he figures to be utilized at wide receiver, slot receiver and in the backfield.

Juniors Nick Mosley and Sirron Smith should get most of the carries out of the backfield after seeing action last fall behind 2019 graduate Jamir Jackson, who rushed for 953 yards and 14 touchdowns. Jackson and Crenshaw were both second-team all-district.

Junior Tyler Turnbull returns at H-back after starting for part of last season before going down with a season-ending injury.

All the key linemen either started or played key roles last season. The line will include seniors Anthony Lampron Jr. (center), Alec Hammer (guard), Connor Burgess (right tackle) and Collin Brice (left tackle) and junior Garrett Meek (guard).

DEFENSE

The Tigers figure to be strong in the middle of their defense with the return of Marasco, who was the leading tackler, and Hamilton.

Junior William Dukes IV also will take on a bigger role at linebacker after contributing last season.

Senior Abraham Alabi is a 6-foot-4, 315-pound tackle who has offers from a group of schools that includes Kentucky and Rutgers as well as several mid-major programs.

That group will try to fill the void left by first-team all-district linemen Carter and Johnson as well as second-team all-district linebacker Isaiah O'Connor, who is playing for Notre Dame College.

Styles Jr., who will be one of the cornerbacks, also was second-team all-district while Hamilton was honorable mention. Smith and juniors Keith Moton and Quinn Wills are others who should see time at cornerback.

Junior Garner Wallace, who is the backup quarterback and in the mix at wide receiver, will be the free safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Senior Drew Bookman was an honorable mention all-district kicker who is expected to fill that role again with junior Mitchell Vollmer as a capable backup.

Junior Max Lomonico will be part of the receiving corps and also returns at long snapper. His father, Jeff Lomonico, is the team's long-time defensive coordinator and long-snapping coach.

THE LINEUP

Offense

Quarterbacks: *Demeatric Crenshaw (sr., 6-2, 210), Garner Wallace (jr., 6-4, 185)

Running backs: *Nick Mosley (jr., 5-11, 205), *Sirron Smith (jr., 5-8, 175), Keith Moton (jr., 5-10, 185), Kam Siewny (sr., 5-10, 190), Lorenzo Styles Jr. (jr., 6-1, 185)

Receivers: *Max Lomonico (jr., 6-4, 205), *Lorenzo Styles Jr., Jakii Alston (sr., 5-11, 170), Justin Canini (sr., 5-10, 170), Kobi Gorman (fr., 6-3, 220), Malachi Moorer (sr., 5-11, 160), Wallace

H-back: *Tyler Turnbull (jr., 6-0, 225)

Tight ends: *Ty Hamilton (sr., 6-3, 250), Tyler Gillison (so., 6-3, 235), Brooks Kunkel (jr., 6-2, 215)

Linemen: *Collin Brice (sr., 6-1, 270), *Connor Burgess (sr., 6-1, 285), *Alec Hammer (sr., 6-1, 260), *Anthony Lampron Jr. (sr., 5-10, 260), *Garrett Meek (jr., 5-11, 260), Cameron Griffith (jr., 5-10, 235), Kyle Imboden (so., 6-3, 280), Donovan Sanchez (jr., 6-1, 275), Keaton Snyder (jr., 6-1, 270)

Defense

Linemen: *Abraham Alabi (sr., 6-4, 315), *Brice, Brandon McDougal (jr., 5-9, 290), Donavon McLendon (jr., 6-6, 290), Dawite Melesse (sr., 6-1, 225)

Linebackers: *C.J. Doggette (so., 6-2, 240), *William Dukes IV (jr., 5-10, 210), *Hamilton, *Dom Marasco (sr., 5-10, 215), Melesse

Secondary: *A.J. Sanders (jr., 6-0, 180), *Styles Jr., *Wallace, *Arsahn Williams (sr., 5-11, 170), Brandon Bonsu (sr., 5-11, 180), Gavin Edwards (jr., 6-0, 170), Thomas Few (sr., 5-9, 175), Moorer, Moton, Smith, Quinn Wills (jr., 6-0, 170)

Special teams

Kickers: *Drew Bookman (sr., 5-10, 170), Mitchell Vollmer (jr., 6-0, 180)

Punter: *Bookman

Returners: *Canini, *Styles Jr.

Long snapper: *Lomonico

(*Denotes projected starter)

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek