It’s not quite football season yet, but it’s almost starting to feel like it.
The calendar flips to August on Saturday, and the first prep football Friday of the fall comes just 27 days later. Coaches gain access to players next Wednesday for the first day of the NIAA allotted heat-acclimation period.
Like the smoke we have been fortunate enough to dodge so far this summer (knock on wood), it looms.
Last year, I made a prediction for each of the three local prep football squads in July, and I will not so humbly confess I got all three predictions/statements correct.
I said Reed would win the DI North title for the fourth-straight year. It did. I said Spanish Springs would miss out on the playoffs. The resurgence of Hug played a factor obviously, but the Cougs missed out on the postseason. And I said Sparks would snap its losing streak that dated back to 2011. The Railroaders waited until the final game of the season to upend Wooster but kept my batting average at 1.000 regardless.
So that means one of two things. One, I’m clearly a genius, and everyone should consider my prognostications as to-be facts. Or two, I got lucky and will get all three predictions wrong this fall.
You be the judge. Either way, I’m doing it again.
1. Reed will take 13-0 record into the state tournament
Not only do I think the Raiders will win their fifth-straight regional title, I think they’re going to do it while avoiding the loss column.
Last year, the Raiders had a brutal non-league schedule, so asking for an undefeated run was all but unrealistic. This year, the largest non-league obstacles come from Carson in the opener Saturday, Aug. 29, at Mackay Stadium and Oak Ridge (El Dorado Hills, Calif.) in Week 4.
The Raiders beat Oak Ridge, which finished the season 5-5, on the road last season, 26-14.
Almost all of Reed’s skill position players, including the reigning DI North Offensive Player of the Year, quarterback Matt Denn, return this fall. The question mark comes in the trenches where Reed lost a lot of size and leadership, but the Raiders churn out big men like Derek Jeter does supermodels.
Asked how their offensive and defense lines will be next season, coach Ernie Howren looked at me with a confident grin and said, “We’re going to be fine.”
13-0 is pretty fine, too.
2. The Cougs are back–sort of
As expected, I got all kinds of grief last season for saying Spanish Springs was going to miss out on the postseason.
So I better get pats on the back all over town this season.
Spanish Springs won’t be dominant, but in his second season at the helm, Eric Borja is going to lead the Purple to the DI North playoffs.
With six teams in the High Desert League, the Cougs just need to finish in the top four to extend their season into November. I expect Hug to take a step back after its coming-out party last season, due largely to the departures of quarterback Dekembe Montgomery and running back/linebacker Roosevelt Calhoun.
I don’t foresee North Valleys making any Hug-like jumps either so by default, along with year No. 1 now out of the way for Borja, it’s onto the playoffs.
I would give my postseason prediction when they likely square up with the Sierra League champion in the DI North quarterfinals, but I’ll quit while I’m ahead.
3. Plural dubs for Sparks
The Railroaders certainly made me sweat it out last year, but the season-ending win over Wooster wasn’t the first time they were close last fall.
When you haven’t won in three seasons, it’s hard to finish games. Rob Kittrell’s gang certainly had its issues in the fourth quarter of winnable games. Were they often outmatched? Yes. Were they better than the 0-fer they nearly settled for? Yes.
Saying the Railroaders have momentum heading into 2015 would be a stretch, and then some, but there will certainly be a new feeling in that locker room getting off the schneid. That’s where a turnaround starts.
Sparks isn’t going to compete for the DI-A North title. The Railroaders will, however, win multiple games this fall.