Twenty-one short days and that's it. Football will be here.
Last week, with less than a month to go, we published five must-see games inside the first half of the upcoming high school season. The five you can't miss over the second half will be out tomorrow. But the excitement of Friday nights is hardly confined between the sidelines.
So in keeping with a look-ahead to kickoff, here are 21 reasons, one for each day until the opener on Aug. 26, to get excited for football both on and off the field.
- Rivalry. Everything, from the hitting, crowd noise and stakes, is ratcheted up when familiar foes meet. We'll get our first rivalry dose with the Cedar Bowl, then Annville-Cleona visits Elco three weeks later and the clashes will only get bigger from there. Bring on the healthy hate.
- The band. Members and parents need no reminder here, but sometimes the constant, wonderful work of the band fades into the background of our tunnel vision trying to determine whether the ball just moved nine yards or ten. Yet what would Friday nights be without the stream of music? Just like anything else that has its tunes muted: far less fun.
- Section shifts. Cedar Crest and Lebanon face new challenges this season, having swapped places in Section One and Two. Can the new kids on the block contend?
- Finding out how Northern Lebanon will reload. The county's most dominant team the past two seasons must plug many holes in the trenches. The Vikes managed their Section Three repeat in 2015. Could a three-peat be in the cards?
- How senior backs Justice Belleman, Tyler Horst and Luke Funck fare behind new offensive lines. Each back surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground a year ago, yet may now face a taller climb back to four digits this year.
- Learning if reclassification brings about more district berths. Annville-Cleona, Cedar Crest, Palmyra, and Northern Lebanon all reached the postseason a year ago, doubling the county's number of district berths from 2014. Can they all return and might Elco or Lebanon join them?
- Palmyra's three-game road trip to start the season. If the Cougars can survive their early storm, nearly every critical showdown from there on out will be in their backyard. There's no time to waste for the black and orange.
- The breakout players. Every season, without fail, new stars step up. So who will be the fresh face to see his name published in this space next month?
- New quarterbacks at Elco, Palmyra, Northern Lebanon and Annville-Cleona.
- The 45th Cedar Bowl.
- Watching if a local Section Three team makes a run at Lancaster Catholic. With the Crusaders moving down a section, they've now assumed the title of presumptive favorite. But will a bunch of Vikings, Raiders or Little Dutchmen spoil their debut party?
- The Elco-Northern Lebanon rematch. Last year's thriller in Fredericksburg saw a furious Raiders comeback in the second half that erased a 30-14 intermission deficit. With the rematch now in Myerstown, could homefield advantage push Elco into the win column?
- Annville-Cleona's second-year jump under coach Matt Gingrich. Last fall, Cedar Crest jumped into districts in its sophomore campaign with Rob Wildasin. Could the Little Dutchmen make a significant jump, too?
- Looking for a Cedars victory in section play. Lebanon went 0-7 in its Section Two farewell last fall. Warwick, Penn Manor and McCaskey are the prime candidates to go down this season before the Cedars must host powers. Manheim Twp. and Hempfield in the final weeks.
- Cedar Crest hosting Northern Lebanon in Week 3. Do you remember the last time this programs met? Neither do I.
- Palmyra's skill position players. Senior backs Alon Rhette and Carl Reigle join wideout Pete Robertson and tight end Mason Cooper as key returners that could captain another strong campaign.
- Watching a livestream of the Game of the Week on GameTimePA.com.
- Keeping Section Two on upset alert when Cedar Crest plays host. The Falcons get two of the section's reigning tri-champions, Lampeter-Strasburg and Manheim Central, late in the season at home. Can they make a major statement in either Week 8 or 10?
- The return of players robbed of playing time in 2015 by injury, like Reigle, Elco's Kyle Knight and many others.
- Reading your neighborhood sportswriters' every game pick this season and then rubbing their faces in the predictions gone bad.