Only a few days remain until Bay Rivers District schools open football practice and, as they do, they enter a brave new world.
The biggest change is the Virginia High School League realignment that places four district schools (Jamestown, Grafton, Smithfield and Tabb) in state Class 4A and in a South Region with football powerhouses like Phoebus, Lake Taylor and Dinwiddie from the formerly large schools AAA classification.
On paper, at least, district favorite Lafayette, Poquoson, Warhill, New Kent and York should find the sledding somewhat easier in the Class 3A East Region. Ditto for Bruton, the district's only Class 2A East Region school.
The district welcomes two new coaches, former William and Mary defensive coordinator Matt McLeod at Grafton and Obie Boykin, who moves from assistant coach to interim head coach at Warhill. Neither inherited the big whistle at their school until into July, so their preparation time for the first practices has been compressed.
For all the new, the Bay Rivers remains intact for at least another two years. Of the five games we feature below as ones to watch in 2013, four are head-to-head matchups between district schools.
SEPT. 6: JAMESTOWN AT DINWIDDIE
This will be the glimpse of how brutal, or not, the movement of high-quality former Group AAA programs into the same classification — in this case 4A — could be for the all formerly AA Bay Rivers schools. Over the past six seasons, Dinwiddie made the playoffs in each, won the Central Region title twice, reached a state final and barely missed playing in another. Jamestown is not without some weapons — Davon Turner rushed for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns and Stas Szczepanski 655 and five TDs a year ago — but must rebuild its lines.
SEPT. 13: POQUOSON VS. TABB (AT BAILEY FIELD)
After two weekends of non-district play, the Bay Rivers schedule opens with a bang. Many figure the longtime rivals will be among Lafayette's biggest roadblocks to a district title because both return so many key players. The Wing-T battle could come down to a clash of running games and both pack plenty of ammunition. Poquoson features the thunder-lightning package of Grayson Boyce (682 yards, seven TDs) and Austin Turner (660 yards, nine TDs), while Tabb counters with emerging star Brent Hinson (1,080 yards rushing, 12 TDs).
SEPT. 13: SMITHFIELD VS. WARHILL (AT WANNER STADIUM)
How good is defending district co-champ Smithfield after losing most of its players from one of the Bay Rivers' best-ever defenses? How good is Warhill following two head coaching changes since March and the graduation of some key linemen — Virginia Tech signee Parker Osterloh among them? While Smithfield again will likely build around defense, this game features star power in athletic Packers' quarterback Jermaal Wells — a Division I recruit next year? — and current D-I recruit Devonte Dedmon.
OCT. 11: LAFAYETTE VS. POQUOSON (AT POQUOSON MIDDLE SCHOOL)
Win or lose, this game has been the Bermuda Triangle of Lafayette football. Two years ago, the Rams were beaten by the Islanders and suffered injuries to both starting guards and wide receiver Thomas Smith (then a Virginia Tech recruit), sending them into the postseason hobbled. The district co-champion Rams won 43-19 in 2012, but injuries to quarterback Brendan McGinty and star running back Jahlil Green in the game proved costly a week later in a playoff upset loss to Park View. Should the Rams leave Poquoson healthy and with a win, their district title hopes soar.
NOV. 1: WARHILL VS. LAFAYETTE (AT WANNER)
Sure, this game could have regional playoff seeding implications but this is really about Devonte Dedmon versus Jahlil Green. Rarely do two Division I skill players with their game-breaking abilities square off. Green used his to rush for 1,546 yards and 20 TDs a year ago, while district Offensive Player of the Year Dedmon accounted for more than 2,000 rushing, receiving and passing yards, and 24 TDs, in the slightly more than six games (Lafayette not included) he was healthy a year ago.