The game has changed, and the kids are ever-changing, but one thing that never wavers is the electricity of opening night in high school football.
"It still gets my blood boiling," said John Boles, starting his 28th season as a head coach in the Toledo area and his 15th at Maumee High. "It's not really jitters. It's excitement. It's why I love it and still do it."
Tonight is the night as most schools in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan kick off for the first time in 2012.
"Everybody loves Friday night football and there's nothing like the first one," said Whiteford High coach Jason Mensing. "It's the anticipation of the unexpected that doesn't exist other weeks."
For players, it's also the anticipation of hitting guys in different colored jerseys after weeks of practice, including two-a-day grinds.
Veteran coaches such as Boles and Jerry Rutherford, beginning his 31st season at Eastwood, never tire of the opening-night drill and thrill. Mensing is an experienced and, in his own words, well-traveled head coach who's in his first year at a new school. Then there are coaches like Jeff Boulton at Holgate, who has upward of 20 years as an assistant under his belt but will be a head coach in a season opener for the first time.
"I think nerves are always a factor," said Boulton, who was part of legendary coach Charles Buckenmeyer's final senior class at Napoleon in the late 1970s. "As a player I always wanted those butterflies, the jitters. I felt it always gave you an edge. I'm sure I'll have them [tonight] too."
Rutherford's nerves stem from both an excitement and a level of concern for his players.
"You watch them grow up over a season and this is the start," he said. "It's just a lot of fun. For some of them, for most all of the seniors, these are the last 10 weeks they'll play the game, the last time they'll have to deal with both adversity and success, and it starts tonight. I told them that 10 weeks are guaranteed and that it will go by faster than they can imagine. Now we get to see what happens."
Rutherford has 191 career wins at Eastwood, but it was 20 years before the Eagles made the state playoffs. He approaches seasons now with a different mind-set.
"I'll admit that I used to wonder if I'd ever coach in the playoffs or ever have an undefeated season," he said. "We've done those things now. So it's not so much about what I can do as a coach anymore. It's more about the kids and seeing what they can do. I've been here 31 years. They get four years. I want it to be a great experience for them. That's not all based on wins and losses, but winning is a lot of fun for everybody."
Boles, who retired from teaching last February, has done his share of winning with six trips to the state playoffs at Maumee.
"The more inexperience, the more question marks, the more you worry," he said. "You worry about preparation and how the kids will deal with adversity, and turnovers, and sudden changes. You work them through the disappointment, if that's what happens, and you make sure they don't get carried away with success. In the opener, it's all new."
That's why Whiteford's Mensing, who has been head coach at four other Michigan schools, says, "There is greater comfort, as a coach, when you get a few weeks into the season.
"Right now, everybody can envision a playoff run or playing for a state championship. Everybody is undefeated. Nobody knows what they are yet. That's the excitement of opening night."
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: email@example.com or 419-724-6398.