The official beginning of fall sports practice for Missouri high schools on Monday morning meant high school football is back for another season.
Illinois practices begin Wednesday.
Here is a quick look at five storylines to watch this fall.
NEW PLAYOFF FORMAT
In April 2011 the Missouri State High School Activities Association board of directors voted unanimously in support of a new playoff system that would begin with the 2012 season.
That system, which uses a points system similar to what was in place 30 years ago, begins with district tournament play in Week 10 after a nine-game regular season. All teams qualify, meaning all schools with a full regular-season schedule will play a minimum of 10 games.
Schools will be seeded into predetermined districts in six classes, with the winner of each advancing to the quarterfinals of the state playoffs.
Some of those districts will be loaded.
Class 6 District 2 will feature CBC, De Smet, Hazelwood Central and St. Louis University High — all schools that qualified for the Class 6 playoffs in 2011 — along with Francis Howell North, Hazelwood West, Pattonville and Ritenour.
Class 6 District 1 has Eureka, Lafayette, Lindbergh, Marquette, Mehlville, Northwest, Oakville and Parkway South. Eureka, Oakville and Lafayette earned playoff berths in 2011.
Class 5 District 2 includes Kirkwood, McCluer North, Webster Groves, Hazelwood East, Chaminade, McCluer and Riverview Gardens.
Class 5 District 3 has Fort Zumwalt East, Zumwalt North, Zumwalt South, Holt, Parkway Central, Parkway North and Parkway West. Parkway Central advanced to the quarterfinals in the fall.
CBC, KIRKWOOD AIMING FOR FIRST TITLES
Two of the better teams in the area a year ago, CBC and Kirkwood, lost in their respective state championship games last November and are still searching for their schools' first football titles.
CBC finished 13-1 after losing 40-37 to Blue Springs South in the Class 6 championship. Kirkwood finished 12-1 after losing 35-21 to Staley in the Class 5 game.
CBC coach Scott Pingel said he and his coaching staff have stressed in the offseason that the 2011 season is over, and there are new goals in front of the Cadets.
“This team is really focused on our goals this year,” he said.
Both schools will be among the favorites to return to the Edward Jones Dome in a few months.
SENIOR CLASS READY TO SHINE
In terms of prospects, the senior class is one of the deepest in several years, with 18 prospects already committed to Division I schools.
Six of those players have committed to Mizzou: Fort Zumwalt South running back Chase Abbington, Summit linebacker Eric Beisel, Maplewood-Richmond Heights lineman Antar Thompson, SLUH center Alec Abeln, Francis Howell offensive tackle Harneet Gill and CBC cornerback Aarion Penton.
Illinois and Iowa each have two commitments. O’Fallon cornerback Darius Mosely and Althoff defensive tackle Merrick Jackson have pledged to Illinois. Vashon wide receiver Derrick Mitchell and Kirkwood wide receiver Andre Harris have committed to Iowa.
Thirteen of the 18 players have committed to schools that compete in either the Big Ten Conference — like John Burroughs running back Ezekiel Elliott — or the Southeastern or Big 12 Conferences.
NEW FACES READY TO EMERGE
When asked recently about having to replace a strong graduation class that included several two- and three-year starters, SLUH coach Gary Kornfeld answered with the wisdom of a long-time coach who has been through something similar many times.
“I’ve been in this business a long time, 36 years of football, and there’s always kids waiting for their opportunity to step up on Friday nights and play football,” Kornfeld said. “… There’s a lot of young kids that have been waiting.”
If 2011 was the year of the quarterback in St. Louis, then 2012 will be a year of transition for several area programs.
The area’s top six quarterbacks from 2011, in terms of passing yardage, all moved on to college. What’s left are many programs looking for new leadership from that spot.
McCLUER NORTH TO CLASS 5
When the new classifications were announced this spring, one of the bigger changes was Suburban North Conference heavyweight program McCluer North dropping from Class 6 to Class 5.
The Stars have qualified for the playoffs the last eight seasons — the past four seasons in Class 6 and the previous four years in Class 5. McCluer North advanced to the quarterfinals or beyond in six of those seasons and was the runner-up in Class 5 in 2005 and 2004.
North suffered some tough losses to graduation, including quarterback Galen Brown, but with a strong group of offensive linemen returning the Stars should be able to run the ball at their opponents and figure to be a difficult matchup in the district playoffs.