High school football is officially back Friday as schools around the state prepare to kick off their non-region schedules. And if you’re a fan struggling to get adequately interested in the first week’s slate of non-regional matchups considering they won’t technically have much effect on playoff qualification or seeding, do not despair. There is still plenty to be excited about.
For one, the first few games of the year will be essential in deciding positional battles up and down every team’s roster. There’s only so much anyone can prove in practice, and in-game performance is the most reliable gauge a coach can have of how a player will perform come region play.
Gainesville head coach Heath Webb, for example, said several of his starters are still in flux entering the season, and he is banking on leaders at those spots emerging in the first few games.
Even on teams with well-established starters, the opening weeks are a great time to build cohesion in a lineup and experience among its players while the pressure to win is not yet at its peak. You certainly don’t want your freshman quarterback’s first fourth quarter, must score situation to come in a regional matchup.
Certain positional groups will gel as they face their first live action of the year. Others will falter. Either way, both coaches and players will grow, ensuring every team is at its best when it’s time to start making playoff pushes.
The opening weeks of the season also serve to build the mysterious force that has driven every championship team — momentum. A team that is 5-0 entering its regional schedule is going to come in with quite a bit more confidence than one that is 0-5. No one is going to win a state championship in Week 1, but a good start can lay the groundwork that leads to a strong finish.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, take solace in the simple fact that football is finally back. Whether you support one of the local teams, UGA, the Falcons or one of the hundreds of football programs at various levels around the country, week one high school matchups represent the first meaningful snaps taken since the Super Bowl.
So fire up the grill, stock the cooler and let the wild speculation begin. The season of optimism and anticipation is finally over, and it’s time to actually play the games. And even though an opening night win does not mean much in terms of playoff implications, there’s still plenty to be excited about.
Nathan Berg is a sports reporter for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @nathanxberg on Twitter.