Believe it or not, opening night is Friday, except for Twinsburg, which won Thursday night. Here are some thoughts from the coaches and some numbers to ponder...
Cuyahoga Falls (2-8)
Second-year coach Mike Miller wants his more experienced Black Tigers to show improvement this season.
"The biggest difference for us there is a lot more confidence and offensively the kids know the system. Everyone knows what to expect, from the players to the coaches," Miller says. "The big thing is nerves for both teams. The kids will be jacked up on both sides, so the first half will be important."
The Black Tigers had a good first half in their opener last year at Boardman, but the Spartans throttled them in the second half for a 43-0 win.
Friday Falls opens at Barberton, renewing an old rivalry. The squads have not faced each other since they played in 2004 in the Western Reserve Conference.
"The have two kids being offered scholarships to Ohio University, one of them is that good quarterback Kyle Snyder. I think we are ready," Miller says.
That was the Magics last winning season (7-3). Barberton won that last meeting, 24-7. The Magic lost their opener last year at Perry, 48-17.
Hudson (5-5) and Medina (4-6)
Hudson coach Tom Narducci has an easy way to look at a season opener.
"It is like going on a blind date - you don't know what you are going to get until you get there," the Explorer coach says.
Last year, the Explorers won the opener at Medina, 38-16. Both teams looked to be improved this year as they open Friday at Dante Lavelli Stadium. Hudson won its scrimmage playing a half and another series against Copley, 14-10.
"It was pretty vanilla. The good thing is we were down 10-0 and a returning players kept cool and helped us come back. But you never know. Medina's j.v. team beat us the last two year, so that's a concern," Narducci says. "We are pretty good health except for our offensive tackle Tim Pallay might miss the game."
Medina has some players banged up, two in the secondary. Having missed a lot of time in preseason, returning starters Jeremy Stich, a cornerback, and Brandon O'Connor, a safety, are not expected to play the entire game.
"They just have not gotten enough reps in practice because of their injuries," says Medina coach Greg Reed."Our starting inside linebacker Connor McBride is questionable."
There is reason for optimism at the Hive. Seven starters return on defense and the Battling Bees won the half scrimmage against North Olmsted, 7-6.
Medina has long been the school no one understands why it struggles so much in football, being a school that has over 2,400 students. The Battling Bees lone playoff appearance was in 2006, their last winning season (7-3). That lone game was a 34-20 loss to then Pioneer Conference and now Valley Division rival Brunswick, 34-20.
Al Huge's first year at Nordonia after replacing Jason Hall, who replaced Keith Boedicker for one season before going to Massillon, was certainly successful. The Knights got off to a good start with a win over visiting Tallmadge (9-4, 5-2), 28-7. It's Nordonia turn to travel to Thomas Rossiaky Field to face the Blue Devils, which since 2004, its first ever playoff appearance) has become a perennial playoff team.
The coach came away from the Knights final sscrimmage with Highland in a good frame of mind, despite losing in the one half of actual scrimmage action 18-14.
"We played very well except for giving up a couple of touchdown in 1:05. It's nothing we can't clean up," Huge says.
The Knight are quite healthy with one exception. Defensive lineman Aaron Highberger has missed a lot of preseason action because of mono.
Tallmadge under coach Joe Vassalotti who grew up in the city, won the Suburban League from '04 to '07, reaching the playoff each of those seasons in addition to last year, despite a 3-3 start. The Blue Devils are in rebuilding mode after graduating virtually the entire team.
The Bulldogs won their season opener against Kenmore (3-7), 31-0. This year should be a much tougher challenge, as Stow opens at Wadsworth (5-5), which normally is good for 2-1 or 3-0 starts its three independent games each year. The Grizzlies started 2008 season with a 35-19 win over Wooster (6-4). The bolstered opening game as part of a long term strategy.
"In 2007, we had 7-3 record, but that was only good to finish 10th in our region. Beating a team with a good record can be the difference between being third in a region or making the playoffs at all," says Bulldog coach Marty Tinkler. "For me, openers are always an unknown. You always want to be in control and since we have not played Wadsworth before you have to rely on the two tapes of the scrimmages we saw."
The Bulldogs are in pretty good health with one exception - senior tailback Jordan Markulis hurt his hamstring and will likely not play in the opener.