It's the new craze for elite high school football programs, including Sac-Joaquin Section teams. For decades, it was common for area programs to engage in early nonleague games within the neighborhood. Easy travel, plenty of player recognition, good for the gate.
With CIF State Bowl games factoring strength of schedule, area teams have ramped up their schedules unlike any time before. Showdowns also offer terrific ticket sales, and revenue in prep sports often translates to survival.
A look at some early matchups as the season kicks off:
The Battle for Veterans The showcase for Wounded Warriors features two state powers from Southern California in Oaks Christian and Westlake coming to Loomis.
Friday, two-time defending Division III section champion Del Oro plays Oaks Christian, ranked fifth in the state, following the Franklin-Thousand Oaks game. Saturday, defending D-I section champion Granite Bay plays Westlake, which is coming off a 14-1 season.
The following Friday in Southern California, Del Oro plays Westlake, and Oaks Christian visits Granite Bay the next night.
"It's for a great cause, a great experience, and in games like this, you find out how good you are," Del Oro coach Casey Taylor said.
Friday, Lincoln of Stockton hosts Elk Grove in a meeting of two premier Sac-Joaquin Section powers.
Aug. 31, Pleasant Grove, seeking a second D-I title in three years, goes to Stockton to meet Lincoln, which features USC tailback commit Justin Davis.
Aug. 31, Grant hosts Nevada Union in a renewal of the section's best football rivalry from the 1990s and 2000s. The teams, loaded again, have combined for 10 section titles since 1992 under coaches Mike Alberghini (Grant) and Dave Humphers (NU) and last played in 2005.
Grant also plays at perennially ranked Burbank (Sept. 7), Oak Ridge (Sept. 14) and hosts Del Oro (Sept. 21).
Del Oro hosts Burbank (Sept. 14) and Bay Area power Logan of Union City (Sept. 28).
Pleasant Grove hosts NU (Sept. 7) and plays at D-III power Inderkum (Sept. 14).
Elk Grove plays Sept. 7 at perennial playoff team Del Campo and hosts NU (Sept. 21).
Granite Bay hosts defending D-II section champion Vacaville (Sept. 14), Bay Area playoff regular Pittsburg (Sept. 21) and Lincoln-Stockton (Sept. 28). Justified Granite Bay coach Ernie Cooper on the scheduling in general, "I think we're all a little crazy, but it's fun, and the kids love it."
Optimist football game switch The 58th annual Optimist All-Star Football Classic will move its storied game from the summer to the start of winter beginning Dec. 22 at Del Oro.
The switch is an effort to cap the prep season in style, following the section title and CIF State Bowl games, with a showcase game of area senior stars to benefit Camp Ross Relles.
The Optimist Game lost its luster in recent years with scores of scholarship signees choosing not to participate because they had already reported to college or were instructed by their college coaches not to compete.
Taylor of Del Oro and Alberghini of Grant will co-coach the North team. Joe Cattolico of Pleasant Grove, John Heffernan of Burbank and Mike Johnson of Franklin will lead the South.
The Optimist organization also will work with The Bee in presenting a season-ending banquet to recognize players on the eve of the game.