A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy and questioned my sanity a week ago when I said I would rather cover a local high school football game than the Little League World Series.
The Little League World Series is a lot of fun and I enjoy covering it every year. But give me the Friday Night Lights and I am happier. What I enjoy the most about the Series is knowing that when it ends, it's football time.
Nothing beats the football atmosphere, no matter how many fans pack into and around Lamade Stadium. Give me a rivalry game like Loyalsock-Montoursville or Hughesville-Muncy or Canton-Troy and I am in football paradise.
Maybe it is being the son of a man who played and coached football for more than 20 years. Maybe it is having grown up in a generation where NFL Films really started flourishing but, for me, there is something almost poetic about football.
Played at the high school level is especially fun since one knows the kids are playing for the pure love of the game. This is not big business, corporate football which the NCAA has turned Division I college football into. This is the best.
The intensity, the crowds, the strategy, the bands, the drama ... I love it all. Friday, I turn in my baseball scorer's book for my play-by-play football stat sheet. I could not be happier. I'm counting down the minutes until 7 p.m. tonight.
Once the balls are kicked off, all will seem right with the world again.
Preseason Top Five
(last year's record in parentheses)
1. Montoursville (8-4): The Warriors have made big strides during coach J.C. Keefer's first two years, building on one of District 4's best traditions. They have the potential to take their biggest step yet in 2013. True, Montoursville lost some outstanding players from last year but it has a strong core coming back and could be tough on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Griffin Dunne shined when under center last year, totaling 315 yards and four touchdowns in a dramatic 41-37 win over Mount Carmel. Cameron Ott is one of the district's most versatile players and excels on defense as well as being a big-time offensive threat. Cody Chilcot is one of the area's best offensive linemen. Safety Alex Erb had a big junior year and is part of a hard-hitting defense. The schedule is loaded again with the HAC-II being fiercely competitive but Montoursville has the weapons to make a district title push a year after reaching the District 4 Class AA semifinals.
2. Loyalsock (5-6): How exciting could a Week 10 showdown between Loyalsock and Montoursville be? Forgive me for looking ahead, but if both teams are healthy that could be an instant classic with huge playoff ramifications. The Lancers were one of the district's most improved teams last year under first-year coach Justin Van Fleet, making a four-win improvement. Some terrific players graduated, but this team is loaded and has a lot of starters on both sides of the ball back from a team that beat district finalist Mount Carmel in the Silver Bowl. Phil Krizan leads a talented core of receivers and that unit has Kyle Datres throwing them the ball a year after totaling more than 2,000 yards. Linebackers Mickey Haller and Robbie Newton had big seasons and Bailey Young is a player to watch. The Lancers meet district champion Danville next week and Central Columbia in Week 3 so they will be tested quick.
3. Lewisburg (8-3): Life after Brandon Smith begins, but do not weep for the Green Dragons losing their three-time all-stater, who is now playing at Penn State. Lewisburg has 15 starters back from last year's team that reached districts for a fifth straight year. The Dragons have some nice players to build around up front and have one of the area's best quarterbacks in Nick Costigliola, who threw for 1,364 yards and 13 touchdowns last season while learning a new offense. Luke Smith, a strong player on both sides of the ball, could be the team's workhorse running back and the defense could again be one of the area's best. Four-year starter Josey Hendricks and Austin Steen are tough to move up front while Smith, linebacker Kyle Palmer and cornerback Ben Frankel are back after solid 2012 seasons.
4. South Williamsport (10-2): The Mounties enjoyed their best season since 1997 a year ago, winning a NTL-Small School championship, sweeping perennial power Bloomsburg and reaching the District 4 Class A championship. It was a memorable year for a team that made a six-win improvement. While South lost a strong core of starters from last year's team do not expect it to be a one-year wonder. Coach Chris Eiswerth is building a solid program from the bottom up and South has a good group of eager players ready to build on the 2012 success. Running back Dominick Bragalone was outstanding last year and could take on a much bigger role. Tyler Schonewolf, Tyler Jenkins, Sean McCormick and Jonny Pulizzi are just some of the players who headline a solid defense and quarterback Matthew Boone is coming off a near record-setting year at Montgomery. Tonight's game at Bloomsburg should be a great one and immediately tests South.
5. Muncy (8-3): A year after finishing second to South in the NTL, Muncy has a team that can again compete for and win a championship. The Indians are loaded, especially up front, and have a chance to be a major player in the District 4 Class A playoff race. Troy Hembury graduated after a 1,200-yard year, but the backfield is deep with Dakota Nixon coming over from Hughesville and Teddy Clark and Junior Ramos playing well last year. Quarterback Anthony Barberio topped 1,000 yards and is a three-year starter while receiver Maurice Brown had a breakout year in 2012. Nick Ring, Nick Roberts, Levi Myers and Spencer Cotner are big and tough to move up front and the defense has some nice building blocks. The Indians made a five-win improvement last year and the good times could continue if they still healthy and focused.
Teams to Watch
Milton (7-5) and Wellsboro (5-5): Milton enjoyed its first winning season since 2000 last year and has reached two straight District 4 Class AAA championships. Its backfield is outstanding with quarterback Brady Chappell seeking his third straight 1,000-yard season and running backs Josh Brown and Jayson English back after quality seasons. The addition of wide receiver/cornerback Corey Kriner also is a nice boost for a resurgent program.
Wellsboro has come a long way the last two seasons after a disastrous 2010 season. The Green Hornets were two plays from being 7-3 last year and have a nice nucleus back, including quarterback Mike Pietropola, a 1,000-yard passer. Running back Jermaine Brooks is back after having a breakout season and Wellsboro could be a sleeper in a NTL Big School Division that might be more wide-open than in years past.
of the Year
Cameron Ott, Montoursville; Kyle Datres, Loyalsock: Ott is not only a defensive and offensive force but also makes a big special teams contribution, blocking three punts last year, including a game-changing one against Lewisburg in the playoffs. The four-year starter can play just about anywhere on the field and has the potential to be a 1,000-yard rusher as well as a 100-plus tackler. Datres is one of the district's best safeties but is more well-known for his offensive contributions. Throwing for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns while running for 901 yards and 18 touchdowns can do that for a player. Datres shined as a first-time starting quarterback last year and seemed to get better each week. If he stay healthy, Datres might build on those numbers and make Loyalsock tough to stop.
Game of the Week
Canton at Muncy: This is a Week 1 game with both playoff and NTL ramifications. Both are hoping to make noise in District 4 Class A and a win tonight could help a lot in doing so. Canton, decimated by costly injuries last year, has a lot more players out than in years past and is excited to make a statement in coach Jay Perry's debut. Muncy looks as strong on paper as any team its had the last few years. Now it learns if that translates to on-field success.
Masse may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him for more high school football information at @docmasse.