Hooray! It's finally here.
Football season never seems like it's going to get here.
It's like that every year.
We suffer through the triple-digit heat of August here just waiting.
Other sports like basketball and baseball seem to sneak up on you.
The electricity on Friday nights is hard to match.
This year, it's possible fans are in for a bigger treat than usual.
Remember the thrilling Merced-Los Angeles Crenshaw thrillers the last two years? Well, it seems Merced has started a trend.
Our local Central California Conference teams have started scheduling some big-time opponents.
Mark your calenders, folks.
Golden Valley visits perennial power Carmichael Jesuit on Sept. 26, and Los Banos scheduled a giant of its own in Stockton St. Mary's.
Merced fans know all about St. Mary's.
Tony Franks' boys knocked Merced out of the playoffs at the semifinal level last year.
We haven't even talked about Merced's schedule.
Napa, Fresno Edison and Del Oro will have Rob Scheidt tossing and turning for three straight weeks.
Why have teams decided to upgrade their schedules?
"To be somebody, you have to play somebody and beat somebody," Los Banos coach Dennis Stubbs said.
"Obviously, if you look at Merced and the success they've had the last couple years, it started by beating Crenshaw. They rode that wave throughout the season."
When Johansen and Ceres Central Valley dropped off LB's schedule, Stubbs went looking for a marquee opponent.
He considered Central Catholic, but the dates didn't match up.
Stubbs then set his sights on St. Mary's or Tracy Merrill West.
"We went out and got them," Stubbs said. "We were looking for a quality program.
"St. Mary's has been successful --- year in and year out.
"Also with our program being basically new, I want our guys to see how the big boys play."
As a football fan, you have to love it.
It's an opportunity to see some of the top teams in the state.
Just look at Edison.
With receiver Rolando Jefferson and USC-bound safety T. J. McDonald showing off their stuff, Edison has two of the top recruits in the state.
Believe me, that'll be worth the drive to Fresno.
"Edison may have more scholarship offers than our (entire) section combined," joked Scheidt.
These big-time games were a lot harder to schedule when the CCC was a 10-team league.
Back then, teams only had one non-conference game available.
One of the best moves the Sac-Joaquin Section office has made in the last decade was to shrink the conferences.
Now teams have four non-conference games.
It gave us the opportunity to see a team like Atwater go toe-to-toe with a powerhouse like Nevada Union the last two years.
We always want to see how our kids match up against the top teams.
Are there any drawbacks?
Sure, there's the very real possibility of a loss.
But there's much more to be gained.
"It's all how you approach it," Stubbs said. "Don't get me wrong, we're going into the football game trying to win.
"But the purpose of the preseason is to get ready for league.
"St. Mary's is going to give us anything anybody in our league will give us.
"It may expose some weaknesses. But it could reveal some strengths we can work with."
So bring it on!
Strap those helmets on and get after the big boys.
Aren't you glad it's football season?
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at email@example.com.