It's still sticky and hot outside, but we know cool fall weather is coming because kids are slipping on helmets, strapping on pads, lacing up cleats and sweating like sauna dwellers on football fields across the region.
High school football started last Friday in Tennessee and starts this coming Friday in Georgia.
Another signal that leaves are getting ready to change color - the Times Free Press Sports department is a little more frantic than usual. At no time are things more hectic - you might call it organized chaos - than Friday and Saturday nights in the fall.
The newspaper covers more than 66 high schools in 18 counties in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. We have more full-time prep writers than any newspaper in the state of Tennessee. We know that on Saturday morning, readers want to know who threw for the most yards, who ran for the most yards, who made the most tackles. They want to know about any spectacular interceptions, kickoff returns or touchdown catches. We try to cram as much in as possible.
Our preps writers - Stephen Hargis, Ward Gossett, Lindsey Young, Kelley Smiddie and Gene Henley - can be found every Friday night on sidelines from Athens to Adairsville and from Bridgeport to Benton.
We'll also have a team of other folks taking calls from school representatives so we can get in as many scores and stats as possible.
And we'll update timesfree press.com on Friday nights with live scores and updates and post video of games, courtesy of our partners at WRCB-TV Channel 3.
On the college front, sports writer Patrick Brown will be at every Tennessee Volunteers game, sports writer John Frierson will be at every UTC Mocs game and sports writer David Paschall will follow the Georgia Bulldogs and the rest of the SEC.
In fact, Paschall will work through an SEC football fan's perfect opening weekend. Starting Aug. 30 when South Carolina visits Vandy, Paschall will cover four games involving SEC football teams in roughly 50 hours. Thursday night he'll be in Nashville, and Friday night in Atlanta for the Vols' opener against N.C. State. Saturday at noon he'll be in Athens, Ga., for the Bulldogs' opener and, coming back through Atlanta, he'll catch the Auburn-Clemson game.
Why? Because we love covering football as much as you love reading about it.
Fall also means our two preseason preview magazines are printed. The 80-page Prep Blitz published Friday with dozens of team previews and rosters that included the names of thousands of high school athletes from around the region. You'll find the 40-page College Blitz in next Sunday's paper. Both sections give details on players, stats, rosters and athletes to watch.
Another autumn tradition is the Can You Beat Jay contest, where readers pick the Southeastern Conference teams they think will win each week, placing their picks against those of Sports Editor Jay Greeson.
Each week you beat Jay, you are eligible to win a $100 game day Visa gift card. Winners will be listed in Wednesday's Sports section and could have their picture in the paper. You can also play with friends and family as a group.
Greeson also will regularly comment and wisecrack about football in his 5-at-10 blog, which you can find every weekday morning at 10 a.m. on the newspaper's website.
Stay tuned for coverage and commentary on the victories, heartbreaks, predictions and surprises that always are a part of football.
Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfree press.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfree press.com.