There's no lack of enthusiasm today surrounding the official start of fall practice for Indiana high school football teams.
Although Vigo County's three teams combined for a 9-22 record last fall, all three have lots of reasons to embrace the 2019 season. All three coaches appear to have talent to work with and the players — approximately 250 of them — have something that's perhaps unprecedented to celebrate: no two-a-days, because school begins today for the teachers and Tuesday for students.
In Clay County, Northview's Knights are striving to continue the success they had last season, and will soon be enjoying the benefits of new artificial turf — although a summer that was wetter than normal will keep them on grass for a couple more weeks.
Perhaps the biggest news concerning personnel as the fall begins is that Collins Turner, Terre Haute South's starting quarterback for most of the past three seasons, will be playing his senior year at Evansville Central. But the Braves appear to have his replacement available in junior Caleb Stultz, mostly a safety a year ago, and plenty more to go with him.
"We basically have our whole offensive line back," coach Tim Herrin said Sunday, "and we have seven defensive starters returning, plus six more [defensive players] who played a considerable amount. We should be able to control the line of scrimmage."
The Braves were 4-7 a year ago, beating Terre Haute North twice (21-13 and 37-31 in two overtimes) and losing twice — including the sectional championship game — to Castle.
The two squeakers against the Braves dropped coach Chris Barrett's Patriots to a 2-8 season, but a lot of younger players got varsity experience.
"We have a lot more questions than answers," Barrett said Sunday, "but as the summer went along I got more and more excited. We have a big offensive line with experience, and our skill positions are probably the most experienced of all."
At West Vigo, coach Jeff Cobb is anticipating a bounce-back year from a 3-7 season that included a ninth-place finish in the Western Indiana Conference and a pair of losses to Sullivan, the latter in the sectional opener.
Numbers are one of the reasons the Vikings could turn things around.
"We have 12 solid seniors and 18 juniors," Cobb said. "That's 30 upperclassmen with a lot of experience . . . we're pretty optimistic."
Northview was undefeated last season until running into Evansville Central — the eventual Class 4A state runner-up — in the second round of sectional play and lost a 35-21 game with quarterback Trey Shaw out with a shoulder injury. Shaw, M.J. Shelton and Trevor Cook have graduated from the Knights' three-pronged attack — and would have loved to have sped around on the new playing surface — but coach Mark Raetz expects the new Knights to do just fine.
"We have big shoes to fill; those guys handled the ball at about every opportunity," he said. "But we had a good summer. We have a big class of sophomores, and we'll start several of them."
Northview's preseason scrimmage Aug. 16 has been moved to Terre Haute South, and a couple of early soccer games might still be played on the old field, Raetz said. But he anticipates being able to host freshman and junior varsity games against North the following week.
Elsewhere in the Wabash Valley:
• North Vermillion — The Falcons reached the Class A championship game, losing to Pioneer, after winning the Wabash River Conference. They'll be everyone's target, but have some talent returning for coach Brian Crabtree.
• South Vermillion — After an eye-opening season in 2017 under coach Greg Barrett, the Wildcats fell back to 3-7 a year ago but were competitive in a loss to eventual sectional champion Tri-West.
• North Central — The senior-heavy Thunderbirds won their first sectional championship and were a Class A top-10 team all last season, when they finished 9-2. New coach Brad Hudson looks to keep things going in the same direction with an inexperienced roster.
• Sullivan — Coach Blaine Powell's 9-3 Golden Arrows stumbled against Greencastle during the regular season and finished fifth in the WIC, but came within four points of a sectional championship.
• Linton — A 5-6 season last fall against a brutal schedule was the Miners' first losing campaign since 1996 (they were 5-5 in 2000) but coach Brian Oliver has almost everyone returning from a team that won five of its last seven before a sectional semifinal loss to perennial power Evansville Mater Dei.
• Parke Heritage — Brian Moore's return to coaching paid off for the Wolves, who finished 8-3 overall and 6-1 in the WRC. They won't sneak up on anyone this season, but plenty of talent returns.
• Riverton Parke — Coach Brad Sanders' Panthers finished 1-9 and without a Wabash River Conference victory.
In Illinois, where practice doesn't start for another week:
• Paris — Coach Jeremy Clodfelder's Tigers won their first 10 games last season, their first-ever Little Illini Conference title and were the smallest school in the Class 4A playoffs. The cupboard isn't bare.
• Marshall — Jared Boyll's first season as head coach was a roller coaster: four wins, then five losses. The law of averages says the Lions will be healthier in 2019.
• Casey — The tough-luck Warriors missed the playoffs despite a 5-4 season a year ago.
• Robinson — The Maroons were 2-7 a year ago.