HUNTINGTON - Thursday is the day Ohio high school football coaches find out who worked to improve all summer and who played video games.
The opening day of practice has players, coaches and fans fired up for the 2019 season, which for most local schools begins Aug. 30.
"It's everybody's time of year," Rock Hill coach Mark Lutz said of coaches' anticipating getting started after a summer of 7 on 7 competitions, camps and clinics.
Fueling the anticipation for games are preseason rankings. Cleveland.com released its top 10 teams in each division earlier this week and in Division V, Ironton is No. 5 and Wheelersburg No. 10. The Fighting Tigers entertain the Pirates at 7 p.m. Aug. 30 at Tanks Memorial Stadium. Both teams made the playoffs last season before losing to Johnstown-Monroe.
Ironton coach Trevon Pendleton has encouraged his team to return Ironton to the state championship game, which it has appeared in six times, winning in 1979 and 1989. With Youngstown State commit Gage Salyers and defensive standout Reid Carrico, one of the premier linebackers in the nation, returning, the Tigers might be tabbed the favorite to dethrone Gallia Academy as Ohio Valley Conference champion.
Another team seeking to return to the playoffs is Fairland. The Dragons lost several standouts to graduation, including record-setting quarterback Joel Lambiotte, now at Marshall University. Fairland, though, returns a bevy of talented playmakers and coach Melvin Cunningham said he is enthused about his team.
"Everyone's talking about the pressure on the team and our staff to get back to the playoffs," Cunningham said. "Pressure is nothing more than the shadow of great opportunity."
South Point coach James Gifford said he was pleased with his team's summer workouts, especially since more than 40 players participated. The Pointers have struggled to fill a two-deep roster in some recent seasons. Gifford said now his team must turn potential to production coming off a 0-10 season.
"In order to be great, we have to be unselfish," Gifford said. "We have to put team in front of ourselves."
Chesapeake begins practice with new head coach Todd Knipp, a former Rock Hill head coach who was a Panthers assistant last season. Coal Grove also features a new coach, but familiar face, in Jay Lucas, a former Hornets standout who was an assistant to his legendary dad Dave Lucas for several years at Coal Grove before moving to Wellston. Meigs also opens with a new head man in David Tennant, who replaces Mike Bartrum, who took a job as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles.