Once again, Forest Park stares at a schedule in which half its games are against teams that reached the playoffs the year before, including two each against Hylton and Gar-Field. Those teams have outscored the fourth-year varsity program 181-20 and 187-27, respectively.

Such demands have hindered progress for the fledgling program, which is still striving to post an all-around solid season. In 2002, the team gave up just 13.8 points per game, but scored just 5.6 a game. In 2003, the offense picked up, averaging 14.9 ppg, but the defense faltered, allowing 32.2.

But the Bruins have never been as experienced as they are now, which means they might be able to match up better against the perennial bullies.

"We have a lot of kids that have played a lot of games," Coach Jerry Williams said. "And we feel good about that. We have kids who know what's waiting for them Friday night. . . . We think it's from top to bottom the best group that we've had since we've opened."

In addition to the greater experience, Forest Park's team speed has improved, which should help cut down on big plays allowed; the squad gave up 18 touchdowns of 29 yards or more last season, including three on kick returns. "It's not a phone booth game here," Williams said. "You have to play sideline to sideline and end zone to end zone."

The Bruins have lost starting tight end-defensive end Carrington O'Neal to a season-ending ankle injury.