WHEELING - Oh, that sound. That beautiful sound.
The pads are popping, skirmishes between teammates are occurring, and all across the Ohio Valley dreams of a state championship are dancing through heads.
Football, prep football to be exact, has at long last returned. The purest form of the sport is but three weeks and one day from kicking off the 2010-2011 season.
PHOTO BY SCOTT McCLOSKEY
Wheeling Central players gather following practice Tuesday.
As always, the staffs at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register are busy putting together what is inarguably the most comprehensive football preview in the area. We're detailing all 49 Ohio Valley Athletic Conference football-playing schools, as well numerous colleges including West Virginia, Ohio State, West Liberty and Bethany.
It will hit newstands Opening Night, which is slated for Thursday, Aug. 26.
There figures to be numerous stories as the season unfolds. Let's take a look at a couple that stand out.
The question now is, what will he do for an encore with a squad that lost Jake Lilly, Cotey Wallace, Kyle Sims and Mike Kosevic, but few others. In a matter of a single season - half of one, really - Brooke has gone from the hunter, to the hunted.
Steubenville coach Reno Saccoccia has never been knocked for wanting to play whomever, whenever, and wherever. But this season's schedule is a strong as any in recent memory, including the likes of Inkster, Michigan, the team that ended ''The Streak,'' as well as Massillon, Morgantown, McKeesport, Brooke, St. John's College, and Youngstown Ursuline.
Quarterback Dwight Macon has taken his considerable talents to college, but the return of monsters such Shaq Petteway, who has a number of Division-I offers on the table, and Jesse Birden reminds us there's no such thing as a down year at Steubenville.
There are a lot of holes to fill, though, as graduation took quite the heavy toll in New Martinsville. Back, however, and also starting for a fourth consecutive season, is linebacker Traeh Keller. He's joined by fellow returning first team all-stater Matt Riggs along the offensive line.
Lee Peluchette takes over under center for Mike Young and company, meaning we could see more balls in the air this season. However, doing so would take the ball out of the hands of talented running back Marcus Clifford, who finds himself on just about everyone's watch list this preseason.
Among the boys up front opening the holes is powerful Aaron Schneid, who could wind up as an all-state selection.
The Bulldogs will no doubt miss the experience a guy like Nate Maleski provided along the front wall and in the locker room, but when you have the Smelleys on your squad the scoreboard light bulbs could need replaced.
What does Wheeling Park have in store in 2010? That may be one of the biggest question marks entering the season. But with such a large enrollment and athletes to burn, fortunes should be turning up on the hill.
Kyle Pytlak will be the quarterback, with Phil Acrie and Mark Dodd seeing carries out of the backfield. The main receiving threat figures to be tight end Akil Blount.
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at Rine@theintelligencer.net