No more Kickoff Classics or spring jamborees.
Week 1 is here. Prep football’s regular season begins tonight, and as in years past, there’s no shortage of intriguing matchups.
And that’s a good thing, because the meat of the prep football season is a few weeks away, when district play begins and the games start meaning much more than they mean now.
(Although Bradenton Christian and Saint Stephen’s open with district games because of their unusually large district.)
And such is the benefit of being a prep football team in Manatee County. For all the talk of expansion and population boom, a small-town feel ripples through each community, especially during football season.
You will feel it especially during tonight’s Southeast-Palmetto game, a longtime rivalry which got a jolt in 2007 when the Tigers walked into John Kiker Memorial Stadium and walked out with a win.
You will feel it especially during tonight’s Braden River-Lakewood Ranch game, a burgeoning backyard battle where the Pirates have taken three straight off the Mustangs, including 2007’s first-ever varsity game between the two.
(Man, 2007 was a pretty interesting year.)
Non-district games are designed to prime teams for the bigger, more important games coming down the chute. And the all-county affairs, with their short bus rides and local interest, were designed to help battle the economy.
They accomplish both. Emotions and attendance should be high tonight, replicating the big-game feel that will permeate the rest of the fall. Beating your neighbors may not mean as much in the standings as beating your district foes, but it means a lot to your psyche and confidence.
Case in point — Palmetto’s aforementioned win in ’07 helped carry the Tigers to the second round of the playoffs that year, and many players acknowledged practices were crisper and the players were more attentive in the wake of Week 1.
Of course, it’s Week 1 all over tonight, so you won’t just feel it in Harllee Stadium or in east Manatee County.
You will feel it at Bradenton Christian, where they will flick on the lights for the first time, and at Saint Stephen’s, where the Falcons begin their second season of district play, and at Bayshore, were the Bruins have an opportunity to make a statement against a perennially powerful team out of Jacksonville Bolles.
And, of course, 1,500 miles away, Manatee will be preparing for Saturday’s game in Turtle Creek, Pa., — the venerable program’s first game out of state.
The Hurricanes will probably feel it when they kick off against Woodland Hills at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Bigger games are in store for all local teams this fall, and some are headed to even much, much bigger ones — bigger than anything you will see tonight in Week 1.
But everything starts somewhere. And every year in Manatee County, the regular season always seems to start big.