It’s that time of year again, and anticipation will change into application with the first thump of a foot into the cowhide.
High school football season kicks off today, and Daniel Boone head coach Jeremy Jenkins said it’s always the start of something special.
“There’s no feeling like Friday night,” said Jenkins, whose team opens its season Friday at Elizabethton. “Regardless of the sport, and I’ve played them all, you don’t know how much you will miss Friday nights until you’re out of high school.”
These days, Friday nights are becoming even more anticipated. That’s because football has separated itself as the sport of choice across the country.
“I think as a whole football is bigger than it ever has been — in the whole country,” said Science Hill head coach Stacy Carter, whose team opens next week against Elizabethton. “It has gotten to where it’s what everybody does. They just wait around for football to start. It’s kind of depressing when you don’t have it.”
One reason football has caught more of a local interest is because of the recent success of Greeneville, which won back-to-back Class 4A state championships in 2010-11.
“More people are coming out to watch because of what Greeneville did,” said Jenkins. “They helped our area, and football became a more popular thing.
“We’ve had very good representation up here with Cloudland reaching the state finals, Dobyns-Bennett getting to the semifinals, and Sullivan South getting to the semifinals, and us making a playoff run.”
For Science Hill, the anticipation of big things is relatively new. East Tennessee State University recently bringing football back should only help increase interest in what the Hilltoppers are doing.
“The excitement has caught on, especially in our community,” said Carter. “We haven’t had that in Johnson City.”
The extra anticipation does come with a little bit of a burden.
“The pressure does increase on the kids,” said Carter. “The more expectations people have create pressure.”
Some kids handle the pressure well. Others seem to react differently in some cases as compared to a couple of decades ago, said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten.
That’s especially true of the players without a lot of under-the-lights experience.
“Back then you just jumped in there, got your feet wet, and battled,” said Witten. “Now sometimes you don’t know who will show up and make plays.”
Carter agreed, saying it sometimes takes bright lights to show the mental flaws for some players.
“You don’t know how they will react. The lights are too bright for some people,” said Carter, who also added his players responded very well in a recent “under the lights” scrimmage.
It is a similar situation in the jamborees, and that’s what Witten said he likes about the brief competitions.
“Everything is a dress rehearsal with the uniforms on,” said Witten. “The way we approach it, you can get the opening-game jitters out.”
Much of the preseason talk will be forgotten as teams hit the field for real this week and next. Performances will be measured in earnest when the games count for real.
It’s a process that starts not at kickoff or in pregame warmups, but as soon as the players and coaches wake up on game day.
“It’s the time leading up to it,” said Jenkins. “It’s the morning of. You’re really antsy to get started.”
But everything changes when the first pads pop.
“When you get that first lick, you know you’re in there,” said Jenkins.