When instep touches pigskin tonight, it will be the start of three new happenings in the prep football landscape.
The first, of course, is the start of a new season, a joyous time for all coaches, athletes and fans, where everyone from the perennial playoff heavies on down to the lowest dweller of the cellar is tied for first.
And everyone is happy once they start hitting someone aside from their teammates.
“Our linemen are already mean and nasty,” said Hanford coach Rob Oram, whose Falcons open the season against Chiawana at Fran Rish Stadium. “Two years ago, our football team was terrible. All we had was (Aaron) Neary and we had (Cam) Wagar.
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“I think we’ll be OK this year. Nobody scares us.”
The second happening is the start of the shiny new Mid-Columbia Conference, the seven 3A and 4A teams from the Tri-Cities plus Walla Walla after they broke away from the Big Nine.
Separating from Yakima, Wenatchee and Moses Lake figures to cut down on travel time — and more importantly travel budgets — and should be a boon to fans with more games in the Tri-Cities.
Fans will want to get to the stadiums early this season because of the third happening — 7 p.m. kickoffs. Starting games half an hour earlier than previous years is something coaches have been in favor of for years, but it never got traction in part because of some of the long bus trips.
Happenings aside, however, the best part of a new season is expectations. Will all those returning starters live up to the preseason billing? Will that new quarterback be ready for the Friday night spotlight? Will someone provide a definitive explanation of what those Kamiakin “RUN KANO” means?
Chiawana coach Steve Graff is looking forward to having that first question answered for the Riverhawks, who return starters at 10 positions, but just one a senior.
“We have to see how much we’ve grown up, and we’ll find out when we play our first game,” said Graff, who won state titles in 1998, 2000 and 2003 while coaching at Pasco. “We did a good job in the offseason, worked pretty hard this summer. Now we’ll see.”
Chiawana-Hanford and Richland-Southridge (Lampson Stadium) will be the first two Mid-Col league games. Kennewick (at Lake City in Idaho), Pasco (at West Valley-Yakima) and Walla Walla (hosting Moses Lake) all play nonleague games tonight.
Kamiakin, coming off back-to-back deep playoff runs, will open the season as it as the last two years, playing 2A power Prosser (Saturday at Lampson).
Braves coach Scott Biglin will get his first in-game look at a lot of new starters.
“They’re inexperienced,” Biglin said, “but the key with these guys is they’ve been part of the team the last two years, getting extra practice. We made the finals two years ago, the semifinals last year — that’s an extra nine weeks of practices. They got more coaching than a lot of players have gotten.”
Nonleague rivals Connell and Othello will square off again, as the defending 1A state champion Eagles head over to their 2A neighbors.
In the 1A SCAC East, Kiona-Benton (Granger) and Columbia-Burbank (Toppenish) open at home against West foes.
The News Tribune of Tacoma has released a preseason coaches poll, and six area teams cracked their respective top 10s.
In the 4A ranks, Chiawana is No. 7 behind, among others, defending champion No. 1 Skyline and No. 3 Mead. Richland is among those receiving votes.
Kamiakin is the top-ranked local team, coming in No. 3 in the 3A poll behind four-time defending state champ Bellevue and No. 2 O’Dea. Kennewick is No. 11 as the top “others” team with nine votes.
Prosser (No. 5) and Othello (No. 8) are among the top 10 2A teams, led by top-ranked Lynden. CWAC foe Ellensburg is tied for 10th.
In the 1A ranks, defending champ Connell and Royal come in 4-5, with King’s taking the top spot.