The wait is over.
Today marks the start of high school football. Preseason camps all over the state of Washington will open under sweltering temperatures around 90 degrees.
Dont forget your mouthpiece, grab an extra jug of water and get ready as The News Tribune examines five key subjects for the upcoming season:
SET UP FOR DEEPEST RUN
With all due respect to Bellarmine Prep, which keeps knocking on the door in Class 4A; Lakes, which has the states biggest hurdle to clear Bellevue in 3A; and Tumwater and Capital, who now have to tangle with each other in Class 2A and the Evergreen Conference, the area program with the clearest path to a state football title is Cascade Christian of Puyallup.
Coach Randy Davis group has rolled to five consecutive appearances in the Tacoma Dome, winning the Class 1A state title in 2010, and falling short of repeating last season with a loss to Connell in the championship game.
But the Cougars are facing some issues, starting with the schedule. They open with a nonleague game at Cashmere, then return to host Southwest Washington powerhouse Montesano the following week.
In the sixth week, they also will try to avenge their lone Nisqually League defeat from last season by traveling to Cedar Park Christian.
Personnel-wise, they are a deeper and more experienced team than the one that unexpectedly reached the 1A title game a season ago.
We actually feel we are probably a stronger team now than going into last year, Davis said.
They have two big holes to fill. First, 2011 league player of the year Josh Shreffler graduated and is playing at Wheaton (Ill.) College. Sophomore Mason Tobeck, the son of former Seattle Seahawks and Washington State center Robbie Tobeck, is the same type of big athlete who could play tight end and linebacker.
And all-Nisqually receiver Jake Archer also graduated. Nate Brar, who began as the starting quarterback last season, is another lanky passing-game target who could have a big year.
Lakes rolled out its usual stable of college-bound players last season in winning the SPSL 3A and reaching the state quarterfinals, losing to Bellevue.
But in that season-ending 35-14 loss, Bellevue was intent on taking away one weapon receiver Sammie Long.
Bellevue bracketed him and tried to take him out of the game. Lancers coach Dave Miller said. It surprised me because we had not thrown to him exclusively. But they knew he was our best receiver.
Everybody will know that this season.
Long, a University of Washington commit, is the same massive target (6-foot-4, 195 pounds) as former Lakes star Reggie Williams but a better route-runner. And he has the same elite athleticism as Jermaine Kearse, another Lakes product who graduated from UW last spring.
Long will occupy the X receiver spot on the outside, but Miller said he will shift the senior around.
Paired with Marquin Russell, Long should substantially improve on his 2011 numbers (20 catches, 266 yards, five touchdowns). Miller said he could be an 80-catch receiver.
In everything he does, he wants to be the best, Miller said.
DROP IN CLASSIFICATION, NOT EXPECTATION
Despite being one of the smallest 3A schools in the state in terms of enrollment, Capital made the state playoffs the past four seasons.
In 2010, the Cougars reached the 3A semifinals, losing to Kamiakin. And last season, they lost a 19-16 thriller to ODea in the quarterfinals.
Now, Capital drops down to 2A, and will be a member of the EvCo with the likes of Tumwater, W.F. West and Centralia.
With 17 returning starters, Capital is loaded for another run but cannot afford to lower its guard joining a new league in a lower classification.
I have continued to remind the kids: Tumwater, Lynden and Archbishop Murphy are the kings of the hill, Capital coach J.D. Johnson said. We have to earn everything.
Its not as if the Cougars will entirely shed the big-school mentality. They play Newport of Bellevue, Olympia, Bothell and Bellarmine Prep all 4A schools in nonleague contests.
I am a little bit concerned staying healthy because we dont have huge (turnout) numbers, Johnson said. But from just the standpoint of football, this is great football played in Washington. Any 2A school, any 3A school or any 4A school can beat you.
Quarterback Chris Brown lit up the air as the Bonney Lake quarterback last season, passing for 2,813 yards and 34 touchdowns.
Two of the primary beneficiaries were the teams Killer Zs then-juniors Zach Zaragoza and Kaleb Zahnow.
Zahnow led the SPSL 3A in receptions (75 catches for 821 yards and six TDs). Zaragoza led the league in receiving yards (60 catches, 867 yards, 11 TDs). Zaragoza was selected to the all-league first team; Zahnow to the second team.
First-year coach Jason Silbaugh is expected to run the ball a lot more this season but will push the home-run button with Zaragoza and Zahnow on deep play-action passes.
NEW TO THE THRONE
Eight area teams have new coaches this season all with varying levels of experience.
Beamer Highs Darren McKay is the most seasoned, spending the past 12 seasons at Gig Harbor, and winning 77 games. Others were coordinators at other schools, including Silbaugh (defensive coordinator at Lakes) at Bonney Lake, Gig Harbors Aaron Chantler (offensive coordinator at Wilson), Enumclaws Mark Gunderson (defensive coordinator at Foster) and Foss Patrick Johnson (defensive coordinator at Hephzibah in Georgia).
And, of course, the biggest splash came from Lincoln High, where former Abes standout Jon Kitna who played 15 seasons at quarterback in the NFL returns to his alma mater.
Kitna said Tuesday he expects between 95 and 115 players to report to preseason camp starting today.