Elkins at East Fairmont (Thursday)
The season will begin on a somber note for the East Fairmont players and fans as a special ceremony to honor the memory of Jacob Bower will be held prior to the start of the game at East/West Stadium. Bower played multiple sports at East prior to his graduation last spring. Bower enrolled at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point and he died over the summer during a training exercise.
Bower’s parents will be on hand at the game Thursday night and they will be presented with the East Fairmont football jersey Bower wore last season.
Also, t-shirts featuring Bower’s #88 will be sold to fans at the game. The money will benefit the "Bower Power" Scholarship Fund created by his family to further honor his memory. More than $10,000 has been collected so far for the scholarship through t-shirt sales, ribbon sales at West Point and a memorial softball tournament.
Robert C. Byrd at Fairmont Senior
Fans at this game will honor the memory of Jacob Bower as well as there will be a "blackout" featuring the Bower t-shirts.
Both Fairmont Senior and RCB are coming off playoff appearances last season. The Polar Bears finished the 2010 season strong as they won four of their final five games. Fairmont Senior is looking for a quick start to the season this year as it plays five of the the first six games of the season at home.
"It was a good year of adjustment in the off season to get used to some of the changes," second year Polar Bears coach Jared Mileto said. Mileto took over during the summer of 2010 as he led Fairmont Senior to a 7-3 record during his first season as head coach. Quarterback Trevor Malnick is one of the veterans who returns.
"We have a very solid sophomore class this year," Mileto said. "They will push the veterans in front of them and give us some depth and enthusiasm."
RCB got into the playoffs last season in the first year under head coach Josh Gorrell. The Eagles were ranked as high as No. 4 in AAA at one point last year following a win over rival Bridgeport.
Quarterback Adam Secret returns for his senior season and the Eagles are excited about the potential of a play making defense.
Morgantown at Steubenville, Ohio (Thursday)
The Mohigans will make their second trip in as many years to face the Big Red.
"We’ve played there before and that will certainly work to our advantage," said MHS coach John Bowers. "It’s a crazy, loud environment. We played very wide-eyed early in the game and before we knew it we were down 21-0. I was proud our kids played hard the entire game (in a 35-7 loss.) Hopefully the ‘wow’ factor will have worn off this year."
There are some areas Bowers believes his team has an advantage. It will start up front with Morgantown’s big, experienced offensive line.
"Size is actually in our favor," Bowers said. "That doesn’t mean they are not big and strong but up front we are pretty big. The Steubenville defense is quick and they run to the ball very well. We can’t give it away to them like we did last year when we lost three fumbles."
University at North Marion
Hawks coach John Kelley begins his 25th season as head coach.
“I do feel older and things don’t move as fast as they once did,” added Kelley. “But I hope I can still bring the best out of these kids and they certainly bring the best out of me. I’ve got every bit of enthusiasm as I once did and I’m excited and looking forward to this season just like every one before it.”
The Hawks will be lead by senior quarterback Travis Maraney who is back for his third season as starter. Maraney will play on the defensive side for the first time this season as he’ll line up at the defensive end position.
Kelley is impressed with the improvements the Huskies have made.
"They’ve got 13 seniors on their roster and I think this is a year they’ve been pointing toward," Kelley said. "A signature win over us would certainly get things started for them
"They have a big offensive line and a couple of explosive running backs," Kelley said. "This is a playoff calibre North Marion team."
Bridgeport at Buckhannon Upshur
Bridgeport finished 9-1 last year and earned the 7th seed in the playoffs. The Indians beat University in the first round before running into eventual state champ Martinsburg in round two. Second year head coach Josh Nicewarner is hoping to win again with defense and a strong running game.
“We bring a lot of our [front seven] back,” Nicewarner told MetroNews earlier this summer. “We return our line backing corps and a majority of our defensive line."
Offensively, replacing work horse running back Corey Wagner will be the biggest challenge.
This year I think you’re going to see more of a combination of speed and guys who may have a little better vision," Nicewarner said. "Not one guy is going to stick out; we’re going to have three, four maybe even five guys carrying the ball this season.”
Senior kicker Connor Kornbrath also returns after he booted last season, game winning field goals to beat Buckhannon and Wheeling Park last season. Kornbrath has accepted a scholarship to kick at the University of Iowa.
Liberty at Lewis County
Liberty was propelled by a 5-1 start into the Class-AA playoffs in 2010. It was a remarkable recovery from an 0-10 campaign in 2009. Coach Robert Shields credited the leadership of his eight seniors for the turnaround a year ago. This year, the Mountaineer squad features 13 seniors.
"We won five in a row at one point," Shields pointed out. "We really drew some confidence from that. It proved to the kids that we can win and have success."
Coach Eddie Vincent has helped build a winning tradition at Lewis County as well. The Minutemen are after a fourth consecutive winning season. Last year, wins over Elkins, Preston and Buckhannon-Upshure highlighted a seven win season that ended with a Class-AAA playoff birth.
Preston at Hampshire
Glen McNew III has taken over as head coach of a Preston team that has lost 21 consecutive games. Preston returns 12 seniors on the team.
Philip Barbour at Grafton
Grafton’s team has a strong foundation up front with a pair of three year starters along the offensive line in Chad McDonald and Jeremiah Deam. Grafton’s team has 13 seniors and nine juniors. It will be the most experienced Grafton team since the one that captured the 4th state championship in school history back in 2008.
Philip Barbour coach Curtis Bodkins made the decision two years ago to play members of a large sophomore group. Those 15 players have grown together and matured to form the nucleus of a solid senior class for the Colts.
Braxton County at Lincoln
Lincoln’s program has improved in recent years following an 0-10 season in 2007. Robert Herrod begins his third season as head coach and the improvements are expected to continue as Lincoln will play all five home games at Stydahar Field for the first time.
Also this week:
Hundred at Notre Dame
South Harrison at Doddridge Co.