It starts tonight.
What is it about high school football that gets my blood running?
There's so much that goes into that first game. Every second of conditioning, every minute of watching film and every hour of thought coaches have given to their teams over the summer; it's all toward that first game.
With 9-man football kicking off the 2011 season tonight, the storylines could fill an entire Sunday edition. But arguably the biggest, at least in the 9-man ranks, is the travel required from those in Region 4. Divide County will most likely take the brunt of it as the Maroons are set for bus rides of more than 2,000 miles this season. More on that in our special preseason football section, which will be inserted into Thursday's edition.
It's really hard to imagine Divide County playing in Region 4, of all names, since it's tucked away in northwest North Dakota. In the past, North Dakota has had as many as eight 9-man regions. More recently, there were six regions. Now, there are only four regions to cover the entire state, which makes travel tougher for those in the west.
On the bright side, there will be no more guessing about the 9-man playoffs and what teams will match up against others from different regions. This year's bracket is exactly the same as the Class A bracket. Regions 3 and 4 will play each other first round in a 1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3 format. Four teams make it from each region with six missing the playoffs.
As far as format is concerned, that's the only change.
There are, however, numerous changes to each class.
Devils Lake is back in Class AAA after dominating AA. Sure, the Firebirds didn't win a state title, but they went to three state championship games. In AAA, Devils Lake won't get the same feeling, but don't be surprised if the Firebirds sneak up on teams in the East Region.
In the west, Rugby moves up after playing Class A. The Panthers lost an elite running back in Eric Kuntz, and may struggle in AA this season. However, as I'm sure many of the West Region's coaches are thinking, I wouldn't be so quick to underestimate what coach Scott Grochow can get out of a football team.
In Class A, Region 2 got a facelift with Harvey co-oping with Wells County, which lost in the 9-man state championship game last season. Look for the Hornets to do some great things this year. With the co-op, they have seven kids who were named all-region last year including three all-staters.
Another team to watch out for is Westhope-Newburg-Glenburn, a very big, yet very athletic squad that comes up from 9-man. Having to play teams like Midway-Minto, Larimore and Park River will be new for the Sioux, but don't expect W-N-G to feel much of a difference between 9-man and 11-man football.
Watford City moves into an already crowded Region 3 with the likes of Velva, Stanley-Powers Lake and Lewis & Clark-Our Redeemer's.
Watford City, which had played in Region 4 and is led by legendary coach Fred Fridley in his 40th year at the helm, may have a tougher go at it then in recent years. The Wolves lost one of the best senior classes in recent memory to graduation, and don't have a lot of experience returning. Because of that, it may be tough for the Wolves to catch Velva and S-PL. Also, don't be quick to count out L&C-Our Redeemer's, which could give Watford a run for its money.
With the Wolves moving over, Hazen and Killdeer become the toast of Region 4. Washburn and Wilton, longtime rivals, have co-oped to create the Southern McLean Roughriders, who will play in Region 4.
In 9-man, LaMoure moves down from Class A and is looking to make noise behind quarterback Tyler Thielges. The rest of 9-man is blended with Cavalier moving down. It has most of the same teams, but because of the realignment, the teams in the middle of the state have been largely pushed east or west.
Mohall-Lansford-Sherwood and Kenmare-Bowbells-Burke Central will be playing North Star and St. John on a regular basis in Region 3. In Region 2, New Rockford-Sheyenne will have to make a trip to Thompson, which is near Grand Forks.
The realignment has made travel difficult for 9-man teams in every part of the state, except the east. And in two years, teams like Divide County will voice their opinions to avoid having to drive a distance of 2,000 miles, which is farther than every Class AAA team other than Williston. And Divide County has every right to complain.
But if I know the Maroons' coaching staff, the next three months won't be used as a time to complain about the road schedule.
It'll be about getting down to football. The way it should be.