One night earlier than most of the teams in Ohio and Michigan, the 2013 high school football season officially kicks off at 7 p.m. Thursday when Cleveland Heights visits St. John’s Jesuit.
In Michigan, Whiteford travels to Blissfield, while Summerfield plays at Erie Mason.
Most teams tee it up for the first time on Friday night, with a few marquee openers on tap.
One of those features 2012 Three Rivers Athletic Conference champion and Division I state runner-up Whitmer (14-1 last season) invading Perrysburg to meet the Yellow Jackets (8-3), who qualified for the D-II playoffs a year ago.
A smaller slate of games is set for Saturday, including one involving reigning D-II state champion Central Catholic (14-1). The Fighting Irish, now competing in D-III, travel to Wayne State University to face Warren De La Salle (5-4) of the Detroit-area-based powerhouse Catholic League-Central in a 5 p.m. game.
Elsewhere Friday, reigning City League champion Bowsher (6-4) opens at Maumee (6-4) of the Northern Lakes League; defending NLL champ Napoleon (11-1-1) has its traditional opener at rival Defiance; 2012 Northern Buckeye Conference winner Genoa (11-1) plays host to CL member Waite (2-8); two-time reigning Toledo Area Athletic Conference champion Northwood (10-1) visits Ayersville, and defending Northwest Ohio Athletic League champ Bryan (11-1) plays host to Van Wert in its traditional opener.
St. John’s (4-6) has a tall order in its Old Newsboys Kickoff Classic matchup with Cleveland Heights (8-2), which pounded the visiting Titans 56-24 in last year’s opener. The talented Tigers feature four seniors rated among Ohio’s top 200 players.
In that group are 6-foot-3, 205-pound linebacker/receiver Dorian Baker, 6-5, 310-pound offensive lineman De’Angelo Ware, and defensive backs Marcus Bagley and Kory Pearson.
“It’s always exciting,” 12th-year Titans coach Doug Pearson said of starting the season. “We’ve played in that [first-week] Thursday game before against Findlay, and it’s a great thing to be a part of.”
After facing Cleveland Heights, the Titans will play at 2011 and 2012 Michigan Division 2 state champion Bloomfield Hills (formerly Birmingham) Brother Rice (12-2), and then host Hilliard Darby (12-1) before beginning TRAC play against rival St. Francis de Sales on Sept. 20.
“Just another soft schedule,” joked Pearson. “It’s a tough opener for us. Cleveland Heights is loaded, and their speed is tremendous. We’re going to have our hands full.
“I like the way our kids work, but inexperience is an issue, and depth may be a problem at some spots. We’ll have to not turn the ball over or have many penalties, and we’ll need some smart game management.”
Just managing to find a game is what brought about Friday’s Whitmer-Perrysburg matchup, according to Jackets coach Matt Kregel.
“We tried for two years to schedule a Week 1 game,” Kregel said. “Bowsher didn’t want to play us anymore, and after two years we made no progress. Nobody wanted to come here, just teams where we would have had to travel a long way. Massillon [Washington] was one, and Canton McKinley was another.
“Our decision was, if we had to play a big school like that, we might as well play a big school that’s in our area. That’s basically how we wound up with Whitmer.”
Kregel realizes the upgrade is a daunting challenge.
“They’ve got a huge advantage because of their numbers,” he said of Whitmer. “They’ve got a two-platoon system where they have basically an offensive staff and a defensive staff. That gives them the ability to do twice as much as everybody else does as far as schemes.
“Athletically, I think we match up fairly well. But a lot of their guys on the field are only going to play half as many snaps as our guys. We have to prepare not to wear down.”
Panthers coach Jerry Bell said his team can’t wait to get back in action after the memorable 2012 campaign, which ended with a 20-12 loss to Cincinnati Moeller in the D-I state final.
“We’re biting at the bit here,” said Bell, who was named Ohio D-I co-coach of the year in his first season at the helm in 2012. “We have a countdown calendar for the kickoff that’s been going since January. I think it was 196 days.
“Now when you get into the locker room and you see that get closer and closer. Our kids’ intensity is picking up more and more, and you can see the hunger that they have to get into that first game and prove themselves.”
Similar to Perrysburg being dropped by Bowsher, Whitmer was dropped by its traditional week-one rival, Start, after last season.
“It’s going to be a great game between two great football programs,” Bell said of the home-and-home series with Perrysburg. “I think it’s a great matchup.”
Central’s first foe, Warren De La Salle, plays in the five-team Catholic League-Central that sent three teams to Michigan state championship games in each of the last two seasons.
Bloomfield Hills (formerly Birmingham) Brother Rice won Michigan Division-2 state titles the past two years, Detroit Catholic Central was D-1 state runner-up in 2011 and 2012, and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s was D-3 runner-up last year after being champion in 2011.
OLD NEWSBOYS: Thursday’s St. John’s/Cleveland Heights game will serve as a fund-raiser for the longstanding Old Newsboys charity, which last year collected $223,000 for the purchase of shoes, clothes, gloves, hats, and other apparel for the area’s needy, according to BCSN community coordinator and TV host Tom Cole.
The Kickoff Classic is sponsored by Columbia Gas, BCSN, and The Blade.
NEW SHOWS: Prior to the Kickoff Classic, which will be aired live on BCSN2, Cole and Blade sports editor Frank Corsoe will host the premiere 30-minute installment of Game Night, a pregame show set to run at 6:30 p.m. before several Thursday night games this season, and perhaps some top matchups on Fridays as well as the season progresses.
Cole will also join Ken Watlington and Mike Jewell on BCSN to host a new postgame show, Overtime, which will air on Fridays from 10:30-11:30 p.m. That show will feature video highlights and analysis from several games played each week.