Get ready for Friday nights this fall by reading the 2011 Football Preview. Find your school here.
More lasting than a long gain or a big hit. More important than a win over a heated rival or even the pursuit of a championship, high school football is defined by the memories made on the field each Friday night.
As the prep football season kicks off tonight, while the teenagers involved are too caught up in the moment to realize it, their coaches as well most former players understand that the season is more than just a set of games. It's a collection of moments that those kids will think back to long after their playing days have ended.
The game teaches lasting life lessons like learning to be a part of something bigger than themselves, the importance of working together, playing together and winning and losing together as a team.
The sights and sounds are unmistakable. From the pregame locker room, with players' heads bobbing as iPods blare music into their ears, the smell of smoke drifting from the concession stand grill, fans packing the stands and old timers lining the sideline fence wishing they could suit up just one more time, to four fingers in the air to start the fourth quarter.
There are no contract holdouts, no labor disputes, no NCAA investigations at this level. Whether it's public vs. private, city vs. rural or simply 'us' vs. 'them', it's simply the game at it's purest.
The ball is teed up for the start to another season. From tonight's week zero start until the final second ticks off a December scoreboard, from Sweetwater to Stevenson, Dalton to Decatur and all points in between, blood, sweat and tears will be shed, summer heat will be replaced by crisp autumn air, hearts will be broken and championships that are now only dreams will be claimed. Memories will be made.
Boyd-Buchanan senior defensive back Andrew Peace
"Nothing I've ever done beats the feeling of a Friday night football atmosphere. Running out on the field, hearing the band and the fans in the stands, it's amazing."
Red Bank, kicker, 1988-1990
Former All-American at Tennessee
"You spend a whole summer and offseason getting ready. The anticipation of a season starting and even the build up and nervousness before the game. It's just special.
Maryville College all-conference player
"The relationships you build from work outs to game day. I still keep in touch with a lot of the guys I played ball with and we're like brothers."
Brainerd, quarterback, 1999-2001
Current Brainerd assistant
"What made Friday night so special to me was the night before. I would sit in my room and visualize making runs and scoring and helping my team win. It was freaky how sometimes I would do the exact same moves I had daydreaming the night before.
"The game becomes a part of you. It's part of your life and you can't just let go. You want to be a part of it, either coaching or just going back and watching and supporting the kids that play now. Its why I coach now -- to give back to the game that gave me so much."
Boyd-Buchanan, quarterback, 1999-2002
Current UT-Chattanooga assistant
"It's everything that makes me look back on the fond memories of playing. The feeling you get every Friday night. You recognize most of the people there and you feel their support when you walk out on the field. The rivalry games, like whenever we played South Pittsburg and the atmosphere there. It's the best time of your life. What happens every Friday night around Chattanooga is the definition of what football should be about."
Howard, defensive lineman, 1996-97
Former NFL player
"It's where you got your identity in high school. At Howard there is such a strong tradition, I still get chill bumps just going to watch the kids run out there. It means more to you in high school. When you get to the next level its not as fun, it's more of a business. You're a superstar in your own city if you play well at your school."
Tyner, fullback/defensive end, 1996-98
"It's the preparation. To put who you are to the test. You spend all week preparing for one big event and when Friday night comes it's all or nothing. You find out if you put in enough work to be successful. You get to find out about yourself because there's no place to hide on the field."
Former TSSAA executive director
"The impact of football, because of when its played in the school year, is much bigger than just sports -- it's social. You look at all the people who go back to their school on Friday nights just to watch and to see old friends. Football is just bigger than the actual game. It sets the tone for a whole school year at so many places.
Signal Mountain coach
"It's simple. Going to the games brings people back to their youth."
South Pittsburg, running back/linebacker, 1996-98
Former University of Tennessee and NFL linebacker
"At the high school level, the kids haven't been polluted. They play just for the pure enjoyment. Most of them know they won't have a shot at playing at the next level but they still have that drive to be the best. They want to play hard for their team and their community. It's a pride thing, and that's pretty special to watch."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...