High school football season is just a few days away for the passionate fanbases in the Ohio Valley.
It's been almost nine months since a team has played a meaningful high school football game in the Ohio Valley.
The action gets under way in four days with the McDonald's OVAC Kickoff Night at Wheeling Island Stadium and Kettlewell Memorial Stadium in Wintersville, respectively.
I really think it's going to be a very entertaining and competitive season up and down the Ohio Valley.
From taking in a few scrimmages and spending time talking with coaches this month, I'm not sure there's truly a dominant team.
There are a lot of teams which appear to have a real chance of being good, but even those teams had better come ready to play each week because someone could knock them off during any week due to the balance and parity.
On the flip side, I'm not sure there is a team that's that bad either.
Obviously, things happen during the season that, as we sit here in August, we can't predict. But, it really could be a good, balanced season.
While the coaches might not like that, per se, it's great for the players, fans and media!
Settle in, folks. The greatest 10 weeks of the year are about to get cranked up and they'll be gone before you know it.
SWITZERLAND OF OHIO
Beallsville, Monroe Central and River all own very rich football traditions, which is what made the rumors during the spring that sports in the three school districts may be sidelined because of a failed school levy.
Obviously, we applaud the school district for making sure that all Switzerland of Ohio's school sports continued. Athletics are a great outlet and extension of the classroom where life lessons are learned.
However, keeping the sports came at a cost of $200 per student, which has taken a toll to a degree. Numbers on all three teams are down from where they've been accustomed, coaching staffs have been altered, but all three will be on the field this weekend ready to go.
We were excited to learn last week that the school district is allowing transportation to events if the respective teams can raise the funds to pay for it. That's a much wiser decision than allowing the kids to fend for themselves.
In case you were wondering, the OHSAA season started a week later than in the past because of where Thanksgiving falls. The OHSAA wants its state semifinals on Thanksgiving weekend, thus the calendar gets altered to fit it into that schedule.
In terms of rules, obviously things are geared toward head injuries. Ohio adopted a new law in April about concussions and the state law about if it's suspected a player has a head injury, he will be removed from the game immediately. He won't be able to return without a doctor's note. Should the injury occur during a game in West Virginia, the same rules, for Ohio teams, apply.
Ohio has opted to continue to announce the number of a player commiting a penalty, which is a rule I am a big proponent of.
One good change to the rule book is offensive pass interference is no longer a loss of down. It never made sense to me why that was a loss of down to begin with, but I don't have to worry about it anymore.
BACK FROM INJURY
I am anxious to see how both Bellaire's Spencer Badia and Wheeling Central's Parker Henry fare after coming off major knee operations.
Both players are extremely talented and have worked their tails off in rehab to get back for this week's opener. From what we've heard and gathered, both have played well in their scrimmages.
One difference in the two is the type of player and offense both play in. Badia is a passer, who can scramble, while Henry is a runner, who can throw. The Big Reds' pass-happy offense calls for Badia to get rid of the ball quickly.
Central runs the spinner series style of a Wing-T and Henry is a lethal weapon on the ground.
Playing at full speed in a meaningful game is much different than a scrimmage, but I am sensing both players will be ready and anxious to go this weekend.
Henry missed all of last season, while Badia was hurt in the Big Reds' playoff game and hasn't missed a workout.
SOME PLAYERS TO WATCH
A lot can certainly happen during the course of the season, but a few of the players to keep an eye on this season around the area who appear primed for big campaigns include: Brett Rosen (River), Eric Howell (Shadyside), Bryan Styles (Martins Ferry), Curtis Nixon (Monroe Central), Bruce Sefert (Beallsville), Nate Maykowski (Harrison Central), QJ Williams (Bridgeport), Colby Lindsay (St. Clairsville), Hunter Westlake (Bellaire), Colton McKivitz (Union Local), Devon Hennessey (St. John Central), David Brown (Barnesville) and Devin Pyciak (Buckeye Local).
Obviously, this list doesn't include some of the guys who've already developed into household names around the football circles of the Ohio Valley.
Some of those players include: Michael Ferns and Jaylon Brown (St. Clairsville), Badia (Bellaire), Austin Dorris (Shadyside), Jordan Sapp (River), Levi Brown (Monroe Central), Robert Vargo (Martins Ferry) and Nate Olmstead (Harrison Central), just to name a few.
SCHEDULE ALREADY SET FOR 2014
While teams haven't even began this season officially, the Bellaire Big Reds already know who they'll be playing next season.
Bellaire, which is playing its final season as a member of the Buckeye 8 Athletic League, has inked two-year, home-and-home deals with Ridgewood and Columbus Bishop Ready.
The Big Reds will host both of those teams next season and return the trip in 2015.
Gone from the slate are Indian Creek and Harrison Central.
IF YOU JUST CAN'T WAIT
If you're wanting to get your football fix sooner than Thursday, you can make the drive to Cincinnati for a prep game.
The Ohio High School season actually is allowed to start Monday, but there aren't any games slated until Wednesday when a trio of games unfold in Southwest Ohio.
I'd still like to see an area team move into a Tuesday or Wednesday opener. Think about the crowd that would draw when you're the only show in town.
CHECKING IN ON THE LOCALS
We've received tremendous feedback on this weekly section of our column. If you're aware of an area native who's coaching or has relatives playing somewhere outside of the area, please feel free to email me and I'll follow their progress throughout the season and update the area on how they're doing.
DON'T MISS THE TIMES LEADER
The Times Leader will be your home for high school football this season. It all starts on Tuesday when the annual Pigskin Preview hits the newsstands. It's 164 pages and includes previews and information on all OVAC football playing schools along with major colleges. Also contained in Tuesday's edition will be the first of the weekly Pick Parade contests where readers are asked to submit their picks and try to beat our sports team.
Each week, starting in week two, the Times Leader will run its Xs and Os pages on Wednesday. Those will feature game previews on four of the top matchups of the weekend.
Athlete of the Week debuts on Thursday, Sept. 5 and Sports Saturday will once again feature coverage of local games as well as our weekly Friday Night Lights page, which features pictures of cheerleaders, bands, fans and others who help make Friday nights in the fall so memorable.
While this column is running on Sunday this week, it'll shift to Mondays start in Week 3 and will run on Tuesday in Week 2 because of Labor Day.
Ohio State Buckeye fans won't want to miss the return of the Buckeye Blitz supplement. It runs each Friday before Buckeye games, beginning this week.