Thankfully, football is officially back.
The pads and helmets are ready to crack. Teams are brimming with eagerness and anticipation. Everybody is 0-0 with dreams of making the playoffs. And while some coaches don't put as much stock in the early weeks in Oregon high school football, there's a reason why the first two games of the season are called "non-league" and not "preseason." The contests count for a litany of reasons. Wins and losses directly affect the Class 6A power rankings, which dictate playoff seeding come November. A victory on Sep. 1 or Sep. 8 could mean the difference between going on the road for a brutal eight versus nine matchup in hostile territory and playing at home for the first two games of the postseason. Triumphs in non-league action are icing on the cake for league winners and runner ups. And while they don't affect the Metro League conference chase, those bonus conquests can help boost a squad higher toward automatic homefield advantage.
What's more is the early season games can be barometers for what's ahead, for better or for worse.
Sunset head coach Damien Merrick said the Apollos' preseason last year against Skyview and Sheldon were kind of microcosms of their entire season. The Apollos played acceptable defense against Skyview, but couldn't finish drives offensively. Multiple fruitless trips inside the red zone resulted in a 10-point defeat. And the next week versus the Irish was a sort of reversal of week one. Sunset poured on 44 points, but the defense gave up big plays in a 54-44 loss.
"It was that kind of year, we couldn't get all three phases of the game to click on the same night," Merrick said.
Skyview started 11 juniors in the 2016 Washington 4A semifinals and Sheldon is one of the top-five teams in the state going into this season. Sunset travels to Skyview on Friday for an 8 p.m. kickoff at the Kiggins Bowl and the hosts Sheldon for its home opener on Sept. 8.
"We know there are going to be some mistakes and we're playing two really talented teams the first two weeks, but we just have to worry about us and clean up our execution," Merrick said. "If a bad play does happen we have to try to minimize the damage and not have two or three in a row."
Aloha ended its '16 season opener against David Douglas with 180 yards of penalties and four costly turnovers in a 44-20 defeat. Take away a 15-yard penalty or two, eliminate a turnover and the Warriors are in that game. Mental toughness will be a big point of emphasis as Aloha opens the season by hosting David Douglas at 7 p.m. on Friday at Aloha High School.
"Our concentration is on taking care of us," Aloha head coach Bill Volk said. "Our opponent didn't beat us with five-yard offsides penalties, we beat ourselves. Some of that comes down to conditioning, the lack of concentration or the lack playing as a team. We're focusing on what we do and how we do it. I'm curious to get into this season and see where it goes."
In similar fashion to Sunset, Southridge again is looking at a gauntlet of non-league games, traveling to Sheldon on Friday to begin the year and then coming back next week to host Tigard. New head coach Kevin Bickler doesn't get any kind of cupcakes to begin his Southridge tenure, but that's the way the rookie coach prefers it.
"If you want to be the best and be talked about as one of the elite teams in the state Oregon, then you have to play the best," Bickler said. "We have two really tough games right off the bat and we'll see where we are after that. If we need to adjust as we go into the Metro League, then we will. If they're competitive games, that'll build the confidence in our kids. We have to prepare the best we can and see what happens."
Beaverton hosts Battle Ground at 7 p.m. at Beaverton High School. A year ago versus the Southern Washington school, Boyer said his Beaver squad might have got caught up in reading its own press clippings a little too much and took a 31-21 loss to the chin. Yet, Beaverton rebounded nicely, winning nine of its next 10 games to reach the 6A quarterfinals. And while Boyer knows the value of winning the first game, he's realistic about what will transpire.
"The first game of the year, you're always not very good," Boyer said. "We need to get better as the game goes on. You're changing the speed of the game, going up against somebody's who's faster than your scout team. If we can play solid, I think we'll be fine. We can't try to make plays we're not supposed to make and play over our heads. We have to get that game speed, settle down, get out and go. We want to get our feet wet, and get after it."
Jesuit's longtime belief in scheduling the best opponents possible in non-league games bore out with an opening week contest against Tigard and a week two trial versus Central Catholic. Head coach Ken Potter prefers to play a lot of kids early and often to see how they perform on the varsity level against a great foe, which Tigard certainly is. Tigard senior wide receiver/cornerback Braden Lenzy is the fastest player in the state.
He can play offense, defense and special teams and be an outright superstar capable of taking a game over on his own. It should be a fun matchup between Lenzy, Jesuit star Trey Lowe and promising senior cornerback Briceton Branch. All three are track speedsters who play with swagger and no fear on the gridiron. The Crusaders are ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls and they'll face a stiff test in the Tigers at Jesuit High on Friday at 7 p.m.
Westview lives by a similar theory of taking on all comers to prepare for Metro. The Wildcats face Sherwood for the second straight season to begin the year and then head to Jefferson on Sep. 8. Last season, Westview beat both teams — Sherwood in a 27-21 overtime thriller on the road and Jefferson in a first round playoff rout. The Bowmen will surely be out for revenge, after getting upended in front of a capacity home crowd that sent Sherwood into a 0-3 tailspin to start the season.
"Coach (Greg) Lawrence has done a tremendous job with Sherwood and built a solid, solid program, something we're aspiring to do," Atkinson said. "We have nothing but respect for that ball club. We know we have to strap it up because they're coming for vengeance. They're so physical and they're going to test our kids right off the bat for the Metro League."
Sherwood still runs the Wing-T offense, a throwback attack that runs the ball 90 percent of the time but is still volatile and complicated to contain with its tricky handoffs, and slight-of-hand illusions from the quarterback to the running back, fullback or even wide receivers in motion. Lawrence likes to have as many as six different players get touches throughout the game and deploys them in ways you don't see often in today's modern game.
"It's very hard to stop that offense, you want to bend but not break," Atkinson said of the Wing-T. "We had seven guys off our defense last year go and play college football and Sherwood still got yards on us. You have to stop them at the right moments because they have a great system and they've proven that over the years. They're very disciplined. Their youth program has done a great job of buying into it. You have to buckle up the chin strap and be ready to go. Our kids are going to get hit in the mouth early and I want to see how they respond to that."