The early start is kind of a necessity, because the extra tier of Region I playoffs added a year ago means that four schools play their openers Aug. 24 to ensure they get in their non-district games. Below is a brief look at the biggest challenges each district school faces as it opens practice.
The Panthers missed the Region I Division 3 playoffs last year after qualifying the previous two seasons, and will attempt a to get back with the youngest team in Coach Tracy Harrod's five seasons. Their youth and inexperience is greatest on the offensive and defensive lines.
GRAFTON (9-4, 6-3)
Many of the standouts from last year's Region I Division 4 champions return, so the Clippers are a solid district favorite. The performance of the winner of a three-man battle for quarterback between Jett Johnson, PJ Jackson and Evan Sperling will play a huge role in whether the 2011 state semifinalists become 2012 state finalists.
JAMESTOWN (4-7, 3-6)
The Eagles probably have the talent to overcome Lee Williams late hire (mid-May) as head coach. But Williams admits he would've liked more time with his linemen during the summer and had a few more kids in the weight room. Talented RB/LB Alex Peck will attempt a comeback after missing most of the past two seasons with injuries.
LAFAYETTE (9-3, 7-2)
It's all about replacing the seniors from last year's D3 regional semifinalists: 13 who played a ton, including Virginia Tech-signee Thomas Smith and Norfolk State signee Brannon Waters. Ironically, late-season injuries helped the Rams get an early start on replacing last year's senior-dominated offensive line.
NEW KENT (2-8, 2-7)
The Trojans have some spots to fill on the offensive line and at linebacker, but the biggest challenge will be replacing running back Storm Parker. Parker, now playing at Christopher Newport University, was pretty much the offense the past two seasons, running for more than 1,000 yards in each.
POQUOSON (8-4, 6-3)
Inexperience is easily the biggest hurdle the Islanders must overcome. The Islanders graduated all five interior offensive lineman from last season's D3 regional semifinalists, while quarterback Chase Pinder has decided to focus baseball, a sport in which he already has two scholarship offers from Division I schools.
SMITHFIELD (1-9, 1-8)
The Packers' challenges are two-fold and huge. First, they must adapt to new coach Richard Harrell's spread offense, something made easier by the return of talented sophomore Jamal Wells. And they must tackle much better than the past two seasons, particularly because Harrell likes speedy defenders who can operate in space.
TABB (2-8, 2-7)
The Tigers would love to pass, because they have a talented quarterback in Dan Schiele. But the inexperienced offensive linemen and receivers will have to gel quickly for that to happen. Little experience returns on the defensive line as well.
WARHILL (7-5, 5-4)
The Lions return Virginia Tech signee Parker Osterloh at tight end and defensive end, and some of the district's most dangerous skill players, from a team that produced the program's first winning record and playoff berth. But every starting interior offensive lineman must be replaced.
YORK (11-1, 9-0)
Thirteen seniors who were significant contributors graduated. No one expects new quarterback Austin Norman to pass, run and, especially, run the option like 2011 Daily Press Offensive Player of the Year Alex Johnston (21 TD passes, five interceptions in 11 victories). But it will help if he can run a little and pass efficiently to playmakers like Tywaun Lewis.