The jerseys will never be cleaner than they are right now.
The yard signs have been ordered and found their semi-permanent homes on the front lawn.
The tiny black turf pellets are perfectly settled into their beds — lying in wait for the stampede of brand new cleats to disrupt them for the first time in nine months.
It’s time for high school football once again.
And in Colorado Class 3A prep football, there’s not one but two returning state champion — and in the world of sports, two is a crowd.
Defending Class 3A state champion Palmer Ridge returns to defend its crown, while returning Class 4A champion Pueblo South shifts down to the division after a statewide league realignment brought a whole slew of changes to the structure of the Colorado prep football scene.
But despite the many changes, the goal remains the same for each of the 42 teams split evenly among seven leagues in the Class 3A division: win the last game of the year (which, in another new twist for this season, will now be played at a neutral site that has yet to be determined).
Let’s take a look at how Week 1 breaks down for the top 10 teams in Class 3A.
No. 1 Palmer Ridge at 4A No. 1 Pine Creek — 7 p.m., Friday
Folks, these two teams are so highly touted — featuring arguably two of the biggest stars in the state, regardless of classification — that they even got their own Drew Litton cartoon.
Defending 3A champ Palmer Ridge rolls down the hill to face returning 4A runner-up and fellow preseason No. 1 Pine Creek in a class of Colorado Springs titans (or, Bears and Eagles).
Palmer Ridge returns a gaggle of talent, led of course by CU commit and returning Colorado player of the year Ty Evans at quarterback. The prolific gunslinger will be protected up front by current teammate and future rival Aidan Cullen, a CSU commit.
On the flip side, Pine Creek will have its own offensive dynamite in the form of David Moore III, the explosive Eagle who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards a year ago.
Which offense — or, perhaps more importantly, which defense — will prevail? Either way, this game will be a fun one to provide bragging rights for the winner and, at the very least, an RPI boost for da Bears.
No. 2 Erie at Evergreen — 7 p.m., Friday
Erie’s Disney-Pixar-Cinderella-esque run to the 2017 championship game as the No. 5 seed began with an electric upset of the three-time defending champs, but came to an anticlimactic, non-storybook end on the final day of the season.
But the preseason No. 2 team returns its luxuriously shiny helmets — and last year’s leading rusher among all classifications, Noah Roper (2,631 yards, 36 touchdowns) — to the field this year.
The Tigers also return quarterback Dion Lucero, now a junior, and the wizard behind the curtain in coach Chad Cooper.
Evergreen, meanwhile, was also a playoff team a year ago as the winners of the West-Metro League (which is no longer). The new-look Cougars face a rugged non-league schedule and will look to prove their mettle with an early strike against one of the class contenders.
No. 3 Pueblo East vs. No. 6 Roosevelt 7 p.m., Friday
Which team is the true Prince of Pueblo? With the new league alignment for the next two seasons, there will be opportunities galore to find out. Five of the six Pueblo-area schools — Pueblo Central, Centennial, County, East, and South — are now not only in the same division, but in the same league (shoutout to Durango, the lonely but fiesty outsider in the South-Central League).
The Eagles, who were knocked off their thrice-champions’ perch last year, bring another year of high expectations and ability to the fold.
Led by dual-threat quarterback Lucas Andrada, a highly regarded prospect and leader for the Eagles, and UCLA-commit Kain Medrano, East should contend for city and state supremacy once again.
But their first test is a rough one, as returning state quarterfinalist Roosevelt brings its own bully squad back to the mix. Trent Beall, the Rough Riders’ own run-and-gun threat, returns to lead the offense and should have no problem going toe-to-toe with Andrada and company at historic Dutch Clark Stadium on Friday night.
No. 4 Pueblo South at Holy Family 7 p.m., Friday
Another Steel City power, defending Class 4A champion Pueblo South steps into a new classification with a new-look squad.
Behind coach Ryan Goddard, one of the masterful motivators in the game, South’s mantra for the year is #SomethingExtra — which loosely translated means the Colts will need to scrape and claw for every extra yard, every tackle, and even every extra point if they want to contend for another title this season.
Their week one opponent is Holy Family, which had a bitter 2017 campaign that saw several key players go down with injuries and close contests go the other way. Returning Swiss Army Knife Kyle Helbig leads a group of returners who look to get back on the playoff track.
Expect a battle between two oft-successful programs trying to find their new identities.
No. 7 Mead vs Lewis-Palmer 7 p.m., Friday
The Mead Mavericks were the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A playoffs a year ago and appeared prime for a deep run. But the topsy-turviness of prep football led to a second-round exit and a hunger for more.
This year’s Mavs are teetering between a rebuild and a reload, as a handful of seniors (27 to be exact, according to the fine folks at BoCoPreps) departed with large cleats to fill. But anchored by experienced offensive and defensive lines, Mead should prove formidable against senior TE/LB Joel Scott and Lewis-Palmer on Friday.
No. 8 Durango at Pagosa Springs 7 p.m., Friday
Durango is the outsider in the South-Central League, but don’t let that fool you. The Demons are devilishly spicy despite being the only team in the league that doesn’t hail from Pueblo.
Durango pushed into the state quarterfinal round (and almost beyond) a year ago and should be in the mix again this season, led by quarterback Jordan Woolverton (1,024 yards, 10 TDs).
Pagosa Springs is in Class 2A and was a playoff squad a year ago.
No. 9 Discovery Canyon vs. Mountain View 1 p.m., Saturday
The only Saturday kickoff of the week pits two teams with similar color schemes (hello, purple and black) against one another — but that’s just about all they have in common.
Discovery Canyon, just two years removed from a state runner-up campaign, reloads with another threatening attack.
Now in the same league as Palmer Ridge, the Thunder will have to tune up with a challenging nonleague schedule that features the Mountain Lions, Roosevelt, Holy Family, and Pueblos South and East.
Mountain View, meanwhile, plays with extra motivation in its pocket after its upbeat leader, coach Bart Mayes, was sidelined following an auto accident this summer. Mayes suffered a broken vertebra, among other injuries, and will be the Mountain Lions’ biggest supporter as he works toward a full recovery.
No. 10 Thomas Jefferson at Silver Creek 7 p.m., Friday
One of the surprise teams of last season, Thomas Jefferson is rightfully on everyone’s radar this season. The Spartans rode an 8-3 record to the playoffs a year ago and aim to improve upon that building block this season.
Running back Daveon Hunter (1,086 yards, 18 TDs) will look to get out to a quick start against a Silver Creek team that lost two critical games by a combined five points a year ago.
There’s no better time to turn the tides of luck and fortune than in game one of a new season.