This time last year - and the year before that, and the year before that, etc. - readers this weekend would turn to the sports section of The Post-Journal and be greeted with a very welcome sight - stories and photos chronicling the opening week of the high school football season.
Due to a scheduling change this year, however, for the first time since 2008 that isn't possible. Real games, you see, won't be played until this Friday and Saturday.
Don't be embarrassed if you find yourself caught a little off guard. Others were, too.
Coach Tom Langworthy makes some points to players during Jamestown’s scrimmage with Fredonia, East Aurora and Hamburg at Strider Field on Saturday.
P-J photo by Jim Riggs
"I got a bunch of texts from former players asking what time our game was (last week)," Frewsburg coach Terry Gray said with a laugh. "I had to tell them we were still in scrimmages."
But fear not, on Saturday there were, at least, as Gray noted, scrimmages, and in order to satiate that ever-growing need for a high school football information fix, we put in a few calls to area coaches - Randolph's Brent Brown, Jamestown's Tom Langworthy, Frewsburg's Terry Gray and Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake defensive coordinator Ed Hulton, to be exact - to get a sense of how they felt their respective squads faired in the final tuneup before the March to Syracuse begins.
FULL SPEED AHEAD
What's the one aspect coaches most enjoyed about the Saturday scrimmages?
Getting a chance to play at full speed.
"When you're just practicing against yourself," Brown said, "it's tough to get the kids going at full speed. It's hard to go at live game speed too much. So today I wanted to see how we played at (that level), and it was good to finally be able to do that."
The Cardinals, who met at Charles A. Lawson for their annual scrimmage with the Southwestern Trojans, acquitted themselves quite well, according to Brown.
"We didn't do a bad job," he said. "Our line was bigger than Southwestern's, so that's where we had an advantage."
Langworthy was another coach happy to finally see his Red Raiders racing up and down the field - even if they made a few mistakes along the way.
"Today we were just trying to play hard and have fun," Langworthy explained. "I told the guys, 'Enjoy the experience of getting out there and playing against someone else.'
"I told them that there were going to be mistakes made, but to make them at full speed. And that's what happened. They played hard, were smiling, having fun and the mistakes they made were all correctable. Overall I was pleased."
Jamestown hosted Fredonia, Hamburg and East Aurora at Strider Field.
FILM TELLS THE TALE
While a coach can certainly get a general sense of how well his team is performing during a scrimmage, he won't know for sure how it really went until a few days later.
After all, he's only got two eyes.
"Without a doubt (film is important)," Langworthy said. "You can't really see everything at once in the scrimmage. You can get (an idea) in a nutshell if you're moving the ball well, but as far as the details go, you need film."
Players need it, too.
"You have to watch it with the kids because then they can see," Langworthy continued. "A coach telling them something is one thing, but seeing it with their own eyes is another."
Until finally getting a chance to pore over the film, however, coaches, especially during scrimmages, keep an eye out for improvement - no matter how minute - from play to play.
"We tell the kids, we want you to get better," Hulton said. "Each time get a little better at something. It's always a work in progress, but we took a step in the right direction on both offense and defense today."
Guided by longtime coach Curt Fischer, who Hulton called a "masterful playcaller with quite an arsenal of plays," the Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake Thunder Dragons, as they're now called post-merger, traveled to Depew to square off against Niagara Falls, Williamsville East and, of course, the hosts.
"The film is what really tells us how we did," Hulton finished. "I'm working on making copies right now."
THE FOG CLEARS - SORT OF
Not only does the scrimmage allow coaches to get a better general sense of where their team is at ahead of the regular season, but it also allows for players still battling for a starting spot to separate themselves - even if it's just a little - from the competition.
And on Saturday, a number of players did just that.
During the Maple Grove/Chautauqua Lake scrimmage, for instance, Hulton noted that a number of positions, at least on the defensive side, were still up for grabs.
"We've got open spots at cornerback and defensive end and open spots at linebacker," he said. "For me, as far as I'm concerned, there's still a lot of competition this year. And that's something we haven't had in the past."
Two players that were particularly impressive to the defensive coordinator were Corey Pietrocarlo and Chad Klingensmith.
"Defensively, I was impressed with a young man named Corey Pietrocarlo," Hulton said. "He made some real nice plays defensively as a cornerback, and probably moved up a notch, if not into the starting spot. I'm still not quite sure.
"Chad Klingensmith was a spark on offense. He had some big hits from the fullback position and put a lot of guys on their backs."
For Randolph, meanwhile, the competition isn't so fierce - the welcome result of having a youthful squad win a state championship the season before.
And while the usual suspects performed well - Brown mentioned quarterback Mitch Maycock, Chris Doubek, Cody Oldro and others - he also took note of a pair of youngsters (freshman Sam Jacobi and sophomore Devyn Nelsen) vying for the few spots (four or five, at most) that remain undecided.
"Not bad," he said of their performances. "They're still learning and Southwestern changed its offense so it was a little more difficult to prepare them for it, especially without film. It was difficult to defend. We can still get better."
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Gray, whose Frewsburg Bears hosted Falconer, Cassadaga Valley and Clymer, quickly pinpointed what area he needs to focus on in the final days of practice: the offensive line.
"(The scrimmage) told us a lot, especially with our numbers being down and our inability to have a live scrimmage against our own team. It was very important, and the biggest area that we need improvement is the offensive line. They did well, but they're young kids, and it takes a while for them to mesh. In a scrimmage you can't scout, so the defense is always ahead of the offense.
"But they were physical, tackled and blocked and were disciplined. We started a little shaky, but improved as we went along."
One area where Gray had just about no issues, however, was the defense.
"In (30 snaps) we didn't allow a single touchdown," he said.