The high school football season kicks off tonight amid hopes for a championship for a fortunate few, improvement for others and a good time for all.
For some, the campaign starts with heavy hearts.
No. 13 Franklin, coming off last year's school-best 12-1 record, is dedicating its opener against Atwater to Jason Van De Pol, a 41-year-old Wildcats assistant coach and physical education teacher. Van De Pol suffered a stroke during a practice and is in a rehabilitation facility in San Francisco.
"It's been so hard on all of us, and it's affected our whole campus," Franklin coach Mike Johnson said. "We're working on getting a 'V' for the back of our helmets to honor Jason."
Johnson said Van De Pol's stroke offers sobering perspective.
"It just shows how fragile life really is," he said. "We make such a big deal about this sport we love, and it is a big deal, but in the big picture, it's just a sporting event. This is real life. This incident has really grounded us."
In El Dorado Hills, No. 7 Oak Ridge and No. 10 Vista del Lago will honor Jack Harnden with a moment of silence before kickoff. Oak Ridge's first football coach in the early 1980s, Harden died earlier this month from leukemia at 68. There is talk of naming the Oak Ridge stadium after Harnden, who coached the Oak Ridge defense in the late 1990s.
Vacaville is dedicating its season, which starts Sept. 6, to Steve Green, the popular, decades-long Bulldogs assistant coach who recently died of cancer at 56.
"I don't know that I've ever known a man who has had more influence on so many young people as Steve Green; an incredible person," said Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere, who played for Green at Vacaville in the late 1980s. "And Jack Harnden was a great mentor to me on defense when I arrived at Oak Ridge in 1998. Huge losses for two communities, but how lucky that both were able to have these men guide our young people."
Location switches Two area games tonight have switched locations because of wildfires. McQueen of Reno will play at Nevada Union and South Tahoe will travel to meet El Dorado.
The visiting teams will split the gate receipts.
Lee makes his return After a year away from coaching, Bob Lee returns to the sideline at McClatchy, where he said the Lions can emerge as a sleeping giant. Lee was the offensive coordinator for the dominant Elk Grove teams of the late 1980s and early '90s, and he had championship teams in eight years at Delta.
Lee joked that as a retired teacher, he now can set his own football hours, telling his peers at Sunday's National Football Foundation brunch: "I can get up at 9, break down film, have breakfast, more film, head to school and practice," Lee said. "Trust me. You'll love it. I'm happy to be at McClatchy. It's an old school and I'm an old guy."
Northern lights The Northern Section has produced many fine teams over the decades, but no large program has reached a CIF State bowl. In an effort to enhance its chances, Northern Section teams are scheduling up, including longtime power Paradise hosting Grant tonight.
Before last year's losing record, the Pacers enjoyed 22 consecutive playoff seasons with six section titles and a 2008 state crown. Paradise has reached the Division I section finals nine of the past 10 seasons, winning six.
Time changes In an attempt to end games earlier for the safety of its students, faculty and fans, Burbank will play tonight's home opener against Napa at 6 p.m., and the remainder of its home schedule at 5:30.
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