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Don’t spoil the prep surprises

Bring on the forecasters and sports-centric soothsayers.

Know-it-alls and number crunchers, rejoice. This is your time.

The prep football season is upon us, and it’s time for everyone to make their predictions.

Who is winning district titles? Who is making the longest trek into the regional playoffs?

And there’s a new riddle to be solved this fall — who will be the first to take home the Manatee County championship? There has never been this many teams in the running, so this case may be harder to crack than ever before.

Since the calendar flipped to August, my mind — and I’m sure the minds of those who know how they’re going to spend Friday nights in the fall — has flipped to football, trying to figure out all the aforementioned questions.

Then I stop myself and ask, “Why?”

The best part of high school football is the unknown. The mystery. Prep sports has a 10-yard head start when it come to parity, and that’s what makes it unlike anything else you’ll see on your TV.

Don’t believe me? Well, then I guess you’re the one who expected Braden River to reach the second round of the playoffs. Or you knew Southeast would throw a Tropicana-sized scare into Tampa Plant. Or you figured out long ago that the county’s most electrifying players last season, Palmetto’s Kedric Johnson and Southeast’s Jonathan Dowling, were found on the defensive side of the football.

If these things shocked you, well, good. That’s the point. That’s the fun. And now a new year is here, and it’s time to wonder what is going to happen next.

In about three months, we’ll know who’s in the playoffs, who’s out and who has a realistic shot of coming home to a parade. Right now, however, we don’t know any of that.

Keep in mind, this holds water for all sports. Prep athletes, regardless of what they do, are constantly surprising us, constantly shocking us into believing we’re about to see something improbable.

Now comes the 2009-10 prep season. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering what’s going to unfold in the gymnasiums and stadiums, and on the baseball diamonds. I’m wondering about the athletes who will live up to their promise, and the ones who will come out of nowhere and hopefully, stick around for a few years.

I’m wondering where I’ll be on National Signing Day. Or where I’ll be the first week of the football playoffs. Or where I’ll be the first week of the regional basketball and baseball and soccer playoffs.

Right now, I don’t know.

And that’s the best part.