While Warren County School District students still have one more week left in their summer breaks, the fall sports season is about to hit full swing with the 2013 football schedule starting on Friday night.
This fall will be a season of change, as county teams turn to new faces to replace last year's senior class and a couple coaches, and returning athletes look to build a new identity in their respective programs.
The 2013 kickoff is finally here, and for now, everyone is undefeated.
East (0-0) at Warren (0-0), War Memorial Field, 7 p.m., Friday
The Dragons turned some heads in District 10 with a 2012 season that saw a 9-3 overall record and the program's first playoff win in 10 years. Gone from that group is the school's all-time passing leader, Austin Jerman, his two main targets at receiver, Jordan Willetts and Mark Davis, primary rushers Chris McNeal and Matt Falvo, and head coach Brad Wright.
New head coach Greg Latimer - an assistant on last year's squad - will look to his 11 returning lettermen to lead the new crop of players for Warren.
Junior D.J. Fehlman will be calling the signals for the Dragons after serving as the primary back up to Jerman in 2012, and attempting only one pass. His primary weapon is Warren's most experienced varsity player, Luke Wortman. Wortman rushed for 511 yards and five touchdowns on 37 carries and caught 25 passes for 371 yards before a leg injury shortened his junior season. Also in the backfield will be senior Cody Gunn, who carried the ball 14 times for 53 yards last year. Seniors Josh Atkins, Aaron Borger, and Geoff Stewart will likely be the anchors on the line, both offensively and defensively.
The Dragons' defense will be tasked with stopping East's Anthony Gates, who was the second leading rusher and the leading receiver on last year's Warriors team that went 1-9. All-Region honorees Jauwan Ford and Willie Horne have graduated, leaving room for new faces to step up on both sides of the ball.
"East is going to be a very athletic football team. They like to run outside the tackles and throw the ball, which is typical of what we've seen from the Erie schools," said Latimer. "Our athletes need to come out and eliminate the youth football mistakes. We need to execute our assignments and avoid things like unnecessary penalties. Just focus on the things we've been working on."
Last year's meeting: Warren 28, East 6
Fairview (0-0) at Youngsville (0-0), Youngsville High School, 7 p.m., Friday
After battling through an injury-plagued 1-9 season in 2012, the Youngsville Eagles are hoping for a fresh start from a brand new coaching staff in 2013. John Victor is taking the reigns after the departure of Luke Alex, and his team will be tested early against a tough Fairview squad that advanced to last year's District 10 Class AA Quarterfinals.
The Tigers return star tailback Shannon Jackson, who ran for 2,014 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior. Jackson was named first team All-Region as a running back and second team All-Region as a defensive back.
The Eagles graduated a number of players from last year's team, including primary ball carriers Rocco Gatta and Jordan Gurdak, along with receivers T.J. Hardy and Michael Hamrick. Their departure leaves junior quarterback Jake Lauffenburger with a stable of new targets. Kris Wilcox, Matt Fox, and Josh Taydus will take most of the carries out of the backfield, while Solomon Clark, Tyler Hoffman, and Jon Uplinger are the most likely primary receivers.
Last year's meeting: Fairview 45, Youngsville 21
Eisenhower (0-0) at Mercer (0-0), Mercer High School, 7 p.m., Friday
The Eisenhower Knights were left with a sour taste after dropping last year's season opener at home against Mercer. The loss must have served as some motivation, as Ike went on to an 8-3 overall record and a Region 2 championship before falling to Lakeview in the District 10 Class A playoffs.
Eisenhower is faced with replacing the school's all-time leading rusher John Pascuzzi, three-year starting quarterback Aaron Lundmark, All-Region receiver, defensive back, and kicker Nate O'Brien, and All-Region tight end Jake Johnson.
Rob Wilston will convert from receiver to quarterback to lead 10th-year head coach Jim Penley's offense. Alex Johnson ran for 563 yards on 70 carries behind Pascuzzi in 2012, and the Knights will look to him for the bulk of the carries along with fellow senior Bryce Garris. The most experienced unit for the Knights will be the offensive line with Jake Spetz, Jared Flaisman, Chris Sanders, and Jon Shelton back from last year's team.
Eisenhower struggled to stop Mercer's Logan Clarke and Luke Leonard in the 2012 opener, and both are returning to lead the Mustangs in 2013. Clarke threw for 1,246 yards and 13 touchdowns, and Leonard was the team's leading rusher with 404 yards.
"They're going to be a big, physical team that will hit just like every other team in the south," said Penley. "The south region is unbelievably physical. We've got to come out and be very conscious of our responsibilities and out hit them. That's how everyone has to play against those teams, and it won't be easy."
Last year's meeting: Mercer 33, Eisenhower 7
Kane (0-0) at Sheffield (0-0), Sheffield High School, 1:30 p.m., Saturday
After advancing into the District 9 playoffs in 2011, the Sheffield Wolverines failed to return in 2012, finishing with a 3-7 record. The Wolverines won their last game of the season against Youngsville, and will look to build on that victory to start the new year.
Their first test will come from just across the county line in Kane, where the Wolves are coming off a 7-4 season in which they finished as District 9 Class AA runners-up. Kane's main weapon will be wide receiver Jeffrey Kocjancic, who pulled in 63 passes for 756 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior. Kocjancic will be working with a new quarterback, and the Wolves' also need to fill many of their other skill positions after losing players to graduation.
Sheffield returns junior Adam Higby, who will lead the offense at quarterback after splitting time with Shequan Wright last season. He'll be throwing to an all new receiving core after the graduation of Wright, Dylan Reynolds, Dylan McNeal, Tyler Fitzgerald, and Brendan Winslow.
The Wolverine attack will feature wideouts Jimmy Vile, Ricky Prosen, and Dustin Holden along with tight end Noah Heeter. With an injury to Brandon Johnston, Brandon Kipp and Jareek Jackson will see most of the work out of the backfield.
"It's obviously very important being the first game of the year," said Sheffield coach Dave Fitch. "Kane will have one of the stronger teams in the AML, so it's going to be a good test for us. We've been working hard and improving every week. I think this is as prepared as we've been in a while."
Last year's meeting: Kane 35, Sheffield 13
For a more detailed look at the four Warren County football teams, and all other fall sports clubs, see the 2013 Fall Sports Preview in today's Times Observer.