The grass has been freshly mowed, the chalk is on the field and the allure of Frito Pie calls out to fans.
With the dog days of summer in our rearview mirror and preseason teases complete, high school football kicks off, for most teams, on Saturday night — thanks to the Republican National Convention.
As always, there are far more questions than answers at this point, but watching them unfold is the fun part. Can Armwood put its tumultuous offseason behind it? Will Bloomingdale return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008? Is Strawberry Crest as good as it looked last week? These are the burning questions.
Here's a look at the Week 1 east Hillsborough games. All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday unless noted.
Tampa Catholic at Bradenton Bayshore
Last week: TC defeated Boca Ciega 24-17 (OT); Bayshore lost to Largo 47-16.
Why you should go: To see if the Crusaders can enjoy a victory in tradition-rich Manatee County against a larger school.
Masters Academy vs. Seffner Chr. (at Brandon)
Last week: Seffner Christian defeated Northside Christian 28-7.
Why you should go: Because small school football can be entertaining too. The Crusaders posted their first winning season in 2011 by going 6-4, and they looked real good in their preseason game.
Plant City at Strawberry Crest
Last week: Hillsborough defeated Plant City 15-7; Strawberry Crest defeated Freedom 29-0.
Why you should go: Because the Chargers have to be better, right? Strawberry Crest won just one game on the field last year (they were awarded a forfeit win against Armwood), and that was against a very poor Leto team that didn't win any games on the field in 2011. The Crest looked good in blasting Freedom last week.
Durant at Freedom
Last week: Durant defeated Bloomingdale 34-17; Strawberry Crest defeated Freedom 29-0.
Why you should go: Jamarlon Hamilton is fun to watch run the football. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound senior has the power to bull through tacklers and the speed to run by them.
East Bay at Lennard
Last week: East Bay defeated Chamberlain 55-20; Lennard defeated Leto 33-13.
Why you should go: Eric Hood played his first two seasons at East Bay before transferring to Armwood as a junior. But he's back for his senior year and the Indians couldn't be happier. Hood had four TDs last week against Chamberlain, including a pair of 50-plus scores.
Chamberlain at Bloomingdale
Last week: Chamberlain defeated East Bay 55-20; Durant defeated Bloomingdale 34-17.
Why you should go: Adam Posateri moves from wideout to quarterback this season. The versatile senior may not have the arm of graduated Cody Crouse, but his speed in the backfield should give the Bulls some more options.
Tampa Bay Tech at Newsome
Last week: TBT defeated Jefferson 27-7 (in one half); Newsome tied Steinbrenner 34-34.
Why you should go: Because this will be the best game in the county. The two clubs have been among the steadiest in the past five years and both are expected to contend for district titles again. Plus, Newsome escaped with a thrilling 26-25 comeback win last year against TBT to open the season.
Riverview at Spoto
Last week: Wharton defeated Riverview 35-9; Alonso defeated Spoto 31-6.
Why you should go: I'm not sure. Neither team showed much in the preseason game. Either Wharton and Alonso are that good or it's going to be a long year for the Sharks and Spartans.
Brandon at Armwood
Last week: Brandon defeated Blake 20-6; Armwood defeated Gibbs 35-0 (in one half).
Why you should go: You'll get a chance to witness history. Dean Eychner will be the head coach for the first time in his 28-year career. The bad news is that it will come against Armwood. Couldn't someone have scheduled Leto for the guy's first game?
Plant at Jesuit, 8 p.m.
Last week: Plant defeated Boyd Anderson 36-12; Jesuit's game was canceled due to weather.
Why you should go: This will have the feel of not just a playoff game, but an important playoff game.
Every year as fall comes around, so does the chance for Hillsborough County high school football teams to get a fresh start. This is the case for Strawberry Crest. With a 1-9 record last season and new head coach John Kelly, above, the opportunity to rebuild from the ground up has come. "I told my players I want to see them improve in two things they can control — effort and the attitude you have," Kelly said. After last week's 29-0 preseason victory against Freedom, this season could already be on a different path. But Kelly doesn't focus only on the final score. "It's not all about winning a football game," Kelly said. "There are different definitions of being a winner."
Eve Edelheit, Times staff