What makes an upcoming high school football game one to be circled in anticipation?
Is it because two teams are facing each other for the first time because of this year’s classification realignment, which shuffled regions, classes or both for many schools? Is it two teams that want to have a competitive season opener to draw national attention, such as Leeds/Madison Academy, Clay-Chalkville/Niceville (Fla.) or Hoover/Miami Central (Fla.)? What about a team looking to continue riding the previous year’s success, while the other is historically a powerhouse?
There are many things that could be a factor, depending on what style of football a fan is interested in.
Those fans, more so than players, spend the majority of the summer months hyping up their respected teams, but one thing is certain — everyone will have the first game of the season circled.
In this list of the most anticipated games of the upcoming season, we have a huge rivalry, a community welcoming a former coach home, and two teams that aren’t overly friendly to each other:
Aug. 22, Alexandria at Jacksonville: This is arguably the most intense rivalry in the county, which creates some of the best games of the entire season. Alexandria is looking to bounce back from last year’s gut-wrenching defeat to reclaim its dominance in this series. (The Valley Cubs missed an extra point in overtime in 2013.) There may not be a better way to open football season in Calhoun County than with this game.
Aug. 29, Benjamin Russell at Clay Central: It will be a welcome home for Benjamin Russell’s head coach, Danny Horn, who attended and then coached at Clay County for 20 years, while winning six state championships. This will also be the typical student against teacher game as Clay Central’s head coach Kris Herron was an assistant coach under Horn for many years. It’ll be interesting to see how Lineville welcomes back a legend from its former rival school.
Sept. 5, White Plains at Hokes Bluff: This will be the Larry Strain’s second game at the helm for White Plains, and in the tough Class 4A, Region 6 this game might be the defining moment for the Wildcats’ season. A win here could potentially start the resurrection for the traditional, historic community. The Wildcats have enough playmakers to make it happen, but do they have the mindset to do it.
Sept. 12, Ranburne at Lanett: Ranburne is coming off a rather impressive 2013 season and looks to continue its momentum. Lanett has won three of four against the Bulldogs, but they tend to play mostly when they’re in the same region. This game could shape the playoff picture for both teams as well as all of Class 2A, Region 5.
Sep. 19, Opelika at Oxford: The Yellow Jackets move to a new region with new, unfamiliar opponents, and this is one of them. Two years ago, Opelika made a Cinderella run to the Class 6A state finals before falling to Hoover. Both of these teams have always been in playoff contention, so this game ultimately could decide a region championship, if not a spot among the leaders.
Sept. 25, Leeds at Piedmont: In what use to be a playoff dream match, these two teams have begun to play each other during the regular season and haven’t disappointed. When schedules are released before each season, this is always the first game everyone circles with hopes of attending. Piedmont has fared well in recent years against Leeds, but the Green Wave has to be eager to get the taste of defeat out of their mouths.
Sept. 26, Vestavia Hill at Oxford: Let’s not shy away from the obvious note. Vestavia Hills is among the biggest schools in the state and plays in the new Class 7A. Oxford is the biggest school in Calhoun County and among the biggest in Northeast Alabama. They’ve met once — first round of the 2006 Class 6A playoffs — with the Rebels advancing. If the Yellow Jackets aren’t overwhelmed by Vestavia Hills’ size, this game could draw a large crowd.
Oct. 17, Weaver at Glencoe: These two teams have had their fair share of bad blood in recent years, and it’s pretty safe to say they don’t like each other. If each team went 1-9 for the season, as long as they beat the other, they’d be satisfied. With most of the teams in Class 3A, Region 6 capable of winning a playoff spot, the winner of this game potentially could sneak its way into the postseason.
Oct. 17, Saks at Cleburne County: Saks makes the move up to Class 4A this year and into a region with a few of the toughest teams in this part of the state. Cleburne County has a lot of athletes who fly under the radar, and Saks may have the fastest set of skill players in Calhoun County. Whoever scores the most points in this game has the inside lane on the track for the Class 4A, Region 6 crown.
Oct. 31, Piedmont at Oneonta: The local school with great football teams year-in-and-year-out traveling to the defending Class 4A state champions — what more could a fan ask for? Every game involving teams with frequent success is always one to look out for. This year’s regular season finale for the Bulldogs has the feel of something special.