There will be a common emotion among the 95 Utah teams who take field this Friday for the opening night of the high-school football season — optimism.
A long offseason of weight lifting and conditioning, not to mention summer camp and two-a-days, has every coach and team in the state feeling optimistic about the 2009 season.
Reality, however, is about to kick in for at least half the teams in the state. Practice can prepare incoming varsity players only so much. Everything will be physically amped up another level Friday night, and not everyone will respond equally.
After that, it's back to the drawing board for winners and losers as coaches look to make adjustments heading into Week 2.
For three opening-night games in particular, there's a bit more at stake than just the outcome of a non-region victory. Instead, national rankings, state-record winning streaks and early bragging rights will all be up for grabs.
The most intriguing game of them all will be at Timpview. The T-Birds enter the 2009 season on a 36-game winning streak and are ranked No. 32 nationally by rivals.com. Ironically enough, many believe Timpview will be an underdog at home this Friday against Pleasant Grove.
The Vikings are loaded with talent, including eight Division I prospects. A Timpview offense that is breaking in numerous new starters might find moving the football difficult on a defense that includes Joe Kruger, Joey Owens and Sefa Tanoai. That's where confidence takes over for Timpview.
"Our kids, when they step on the field, they can see it in the other team whether the other team has a shot or not," said Timpview coach Louis Wong. "We always feel like we're going to win, regardless. Some teams when they get on the field do all the rah-rah, but I don't think they really believe they can beat us."
A victory for Pleasant Grove would further validate itself as a legitimate state title contender.
Defending 5A state champion Alta is ranked No. 82 nationally by rivals.com, and it will get a serious test from last year's 4A runner-up Cottonwood. It's the first of three very tough games for Alta, to be followed by games against Bingham and Timpview.
"With our schedule, we could be 0-3 and still be one of the best teams in the state," said Hawks coach Les Hamilton. "I don't necessarily think we need to go 3-0 in the preseason to prove anything, but we do need to come out of it healthy and with a good sense of who we are."
Cottonwood makes the jump to 5A this year, and a good showing in the opener could do wonders for its confidence this season.
In the 4A ranks, there's an intriguing showdown in Sugarhouse Park. While Timpview is regarded as the team to beat, Mountain Crest and Highland are very excited about the upcoming season and are ranked Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in the Deseret News preseason rankings.
Following Friday night's game at Highland, one of the two will emerge as the early No. 1 contender to Timpview.
Contributing: Michael Black and Jim Rayburn