High school kids just aren't the same. Football is not what it used to be. Players are softer, technology is taking over, in 20 years the game will be gone, etc., etc.
I hear these groanings from coaches, fans, friends, and even fellow media members all the time.
All. The. Time.
And when I do I just nod along, maybe utter an unconvincing “Yep,” while I incredulously raise my eyebrows and let the other person talk until they get it all out of their system.
I don't believe any of it for one second.
Especially when I read pieces like this, which isn't about football, but the concept applies.
Especially when the cold, hard numbers tell us that in Alabama nearly 1,500 more kids played high school football last year than they did the year before.
Especially when people of a certain age have always, since the dawn of time, looked at our youth exactly like the maitre d' in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and yet somehow society marches on.
Predicting the death of football is not a bold take. It's an inaccurate one. College football is celebrating its 150th season this year. The NFL has been around for 100 years.
Most high schools in this area have had a varsity team since the 1920s or earlier, and the only thing that has stopped those programs is either a world war or the school closing.
Football is going to be just fine.
It's safer than it has ever been. It's more accessible than it has ever been. And in my opinion, it is still the sport that stands alone in the United States as the supreme measure of physical superiority (in a controlled environment).
As the season (and the accompanying prediction of games) begins, let's enjoy the beauty of the green pastures spread before us and the young men who fill them with their feats of athleticism. And let us do so with the assurance that, while some of those young men will be gone next year, others will come up and take their place, just as they have every year since the great game began.
On to the week one predictions.
Ranburne at Glencoe
Ranburne opens the season with three straight road games, against teams that they beat by a combined score of 124-7 last year. That's one touchdown allowed in three games. And this year's Ranburne defense is even saltier than last year's. Ranburne has some things to figure out on offense, but they should have plenty of opportunity to get those sorted starting this week.
Ranburne 35, Glencoe 6
Notasulga at RCHS
RCHS sleepwalked through a 28-14 win in this game last year. This year Notasulga comes in with one of its best teams in recent memory, if you believe the word on the street, and RCHS does not have the team speed that it had a season ago. That all means that if RCHS sleepwalks again it could be in for some trouble. The fact that starting quarterback and defensive back Damarcus Davis will not play tonight, according to head coach Pat Prestridge, certainly complicates things for the Tigers. But that defensive front of RCHS is legit, and the Tigers should be able to win this one with some old school ground and pound football.
RCHS 27, Notasulga 13
Tallassee at Handley
Among the teams that Handley head coach Larry Strain has faced more than once in his time in Roanoke, he has beaten all of them except two. Tallassee is one of those two teams, as it has beaten Handley by single digits in each of the last three seasons.
But the sleeping bear that has been Handley football may finally be awake, and last week against LaFayette that bear got a pretty good sense of what its claws could do.
The losing streak against Tallassee ends tonight.
Handley 33, Tallassee 20
Clay Central at Benjamin Russell
Either Danny Horn is genuinely worried about his defense or he has been throwing a tremendous smoke screen in the preseason to try to motivate them to do better. Either way, the new guys on that side of the ball do not get to ease into things with tonight's opener. Horn is one win away from 300 in his career, and it would be a great story if he got that win against his former team, but I think the quest for 300 extends at least one more week.
Ben Russell 30, Central 22
Wadley at Woodland
The two new coaches in the county get their first look at each other in Woodland tonight. I'm on record as being a fan of both Shenan Motley at Wadley and Blair Armstrong at Woodland, and I think they will both build winning programs. But one program is currently much further along in that process, and Wadley will once again have the upper hand in this cross-county rivalry.
Wadley 40, Woodland 14
Alabama vs. Duke
These are two schools that are blue-bloods in two different sports. And the football game is going to go about the same as the basketball game would go, just with opposite teams. One team expects to be playing for a national championship every single season and has the talent and recruits to do so. The other will be happy to be in the top half of its conference standings by the end of the season. And the better team could play all of the first half without a handful of starters and still win easily.
Alabama 52, Duke 20
Georgia at Vanderbilt
Georgia lost to Vanderbilt as recently as 2016, so I guess an upset is not totally out of the equation. But, come on. It's Georgia and Vanderbilt. All of the questions about Georgia's defensive line and wide receivers could very well remain unanswered and Georgia should still win by at least three touchdowns.
Georgia 45, Vanderbilt 10
Auburn vs. Oregon
What's going to matter the most for Auburn in this game? Its powerful defensive line or its true freshman starting quarterback? How much will Mario Cristobal's experience at Alabama get into Gus Malzahn's head? If Auburn loses will Malzahn make it back to the Plains alive? Well, we're going to find out.
Oregon 31, Auburn 24