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Archive for Thursday, August 31, 2006

A little Christmas in September

High school football kickoff always a date to remember

August 31, 2006

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When you're a youngster, you measure time using obvious benchmarks.

Forget months on a calendar, or days of the week. The dates that matter are Christmas, your birthday and the last day of school.

Then comes adulthood, and the priorities change a bit. The dates that matter are pay day, your kids' birthdays and, if you care to enjoy happiness the remaining 364 days of the year, your anniversary.

But when you are a sports journalist, and, more specifically, a high school sports journalist, there's one date on the calendar each year that also holds an important place in your mental datebook: the first Friday night of football season.

Believe it or not, this year's version is, depending upon whether you read this with your morning coffee or your afternoon snack, somewhere between 28 and 36 hours away.

As the 14 schools we cover fight the butterflies and prepare for opening kickoff Friday night, there are many unanswered questions to be tackled during the next nine weeks and, should a select few teams make it that far, as many as four more weeks after that.

Can Lawrence High overcome its youth and fight its way back into the Class 6A state championship picture, one year removed from last year's trip to the semifinals and 11 years since its last title?

Is this the year Free State High, picked by the Sunflower League coaches to finish second in the power-packed field, finally breaks its nine-year jinx and wins the first playoff game in program history?

Will Veritas have what it takes to overcome the loss of a talented group of seniors, who, in the school's first two seasons of varsity football, made the Eagles an immediate force to be reckoned with in the Kansas Christian Athletic Assn.'s eight-man ranks?

And finally, will the 11 area schools be able to match last fall's unprecedented level of regular-season success, when four schools - Baldwin, Eudora, Perry-Lecompton and Tonganoxie - each won eight games, and McLouth, the one-time joke of Northeastern Kansas, finished a perfect 9-0 and won its first playoff game in decades?

Our job from now until the end of November will be to do our informed best to answer those queries, and more. In your hands in the first step in that quest, as we offer our preseason observations and insights into high school football 2006.

In the coming weeks, our stable of writers working to cover the gridiron scene from all angles. In addition to the information we've served up in the past, we'll be adding a few new wrinkles in 2006, including weekly podcasts available on ljworld.com, weekly staff-member picks of all city games and the area game of the week, expanded game roundups each Saturday, the most up-to-date statistics on our Preps Plus page each Tuesday, and my personal high school football blog, also at ljworld.com, where I'll offer my own thoughts on what's happening on the local prep football landscape.

Just thinking about it makes me ready for some football. Here's hoping you are, too.

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