The long and agonizing wait is finally over.
The 116th season of Utah high school football kicks off tonight with 46 endowment games. It will be the first time high school football players officially take the field since underdog Logan throttled Judge in the 3A championship game at Rice-Eccles Stadium last November.
"It's kind of like Christmas morning," said Northridge coach Erik Thompson. "I don't know what I'm going to get. But we'll find out and, hopefully, it's something good."
All of the 92 teams kicking off the season tonight are hoping for something similar. Everyone thinks they're going to be good, or at least better than last year. Everyone has worked hard all summer. They've all gone through the relentless grind of two-a-days, and in some cases, three-a-days.
One other thing everyone has in common: they're tired of hitting their teammates and ready to crack some people in other uniforms.
"We're sick of it," said Bingham coach Dave Peck. "We're definitely ready to go play someone else and see what we need to work on."
Just like any other year, the 2008 season will feature some intriguing storylines. Here are some to look for in the next three months:
Can anyone stop Timpview?: The T-birds are in the midst of what could be a historic roll. Timpview has won 23 consecutive games, which ties it for the fifth-longest winning streak in state history. The record for the longest winning streak in state history belongs to Rich, which won 28 straight games from 1994-97.
The T-birds aren't exactly marking down days on the calendar until the possibility exists of them breaking the record.
"We don't talk about those things," said Timpview coach Louis Wong. "One game at a time. What matters to us is the opponent we're playing that week."
As dominant as Timpview has been in the last two years, setting the record will be no easy task. The T-birds open tonight against a talented and seasoned team in Pleasant Grove. Timpview also faces tough teams in Spanish Fork and Lone Peak in the season's first three weeks. If the T-birds stay unbeaten, they'll tie Rich's record on Sept. 26 against Mountain View, and have a shot at breaking it at Tooele on Oct. 3.
The biggest threat to Timpview's streak might be Pleasant Grove.
"I think they're a good test for us," Wong said. "That's why we play them every year. They're physical and they're supposed to have a good year. We're looking forward to it."
How will new coaches fare while taking over established programs?: It's been quite a while since Lone Peak, Hunter and Fremont have had new coaches in charge of their football programs. There are also new guys leading consistent winners at East and Dixie.
Tony McGeary (Lone Peak) and Dustin Pearce (Hunter) are first-time head coaches, while Fremont's Kory Bosgieter is a proven winner, having guided Weber High to a state title. Regardless of their experience, the three will be counted on to keep the victories coming at their respective schools.
Blaine Monkres left Fremont and took his pass-happy offense to Dixie. East will be coached on an interim basis by Larry Eldracher, a longtime defensive coordinator at Skyline and East.
Who are this year's sleepers?: No one really expected Layton, Pine View and Union to make it to Rice-Eccles Stadium when the 2007 season started. People knew there was potential for success in each of the programs, but it was hard to count on due to the recent mediocrity at Layton and Union, and because Pine View was in 4A for the first time.
How wrong people were.
Teams will try and follow their example this season. In 5A, Viewmont is athletic and, for once, has decent size on its offensive and defensive lines. Orem, which went 6-5 last season, could make a big leap in 4A and reach the turf. Juan Diego has never made it past the 3A quarterfinals but is a good bet to do so this season. Manti, after failing to reach the 2A semifinals the last two seasons, is a state-title contender. In 1A, North Sevier is an experienced team and should make some noise.
Names you might not know now but will soon: High school football fans are well aware of this year's superstars such as Cottonwood's John Martinez, Timpview's Xavier Sua'Filo and Layton's LaVaughn Jackson. They'll also get to know some players who are under the radar.
Alta senior quarterback Ammon Olsen is primed to have a big season in coach Les Hamilton's offense. Quarterback Alex Kuresa is only a sophomore, but he'll direct a potent Mountain Crest offense. Austin Gumucio will be a tackling machine at Grantsville. Pablo Mendoza will be a weapon for Box Elder at quarterback, while Davis High's James Cowser will terrorize opposing quarterbacks.Where you should be tonight: There aren't any drop-what-you're-doing, must-see games tonight. But there are some quality matchups, and fans along the Wasatch Front can see 1 1/2 games if they're so inclined. Northridge and Jordan kick off the 2008 season with a 4:30 p.m. game that will be televised on KJZZ. Fans can attend that game, and when it's over, hurry to Pleasant Grove-Timpview, Alta-Spanish Fork, Hunter-Davis or any other game along the Wasatch Front and watch the second half of one of those games.