Most high school football teams have waited since Thanksgiving for today - the opening of the 2011 season.
Tonight is the first chance for teams to experience the benefits of their off-season training.
It's the first chance for teams to live up to preseason hype.
It's the first chance for teams to surprise and show they're better than expected.
The season builds toward the first weekend in December when schools play for sectional and state championships.
Although it's only the first game of the season, teams' playoff hopes will be affected by what happens tonight.
Here's a preview of this weekend's games (Last season's record in parentheses).
Egg Harbor Township (6-5)
at Absegami (4-6)
7 p.m. today (94.3 FM): Both teams made the South Jersey Group IV playoffs last season. EHT graduated a number of standouts but returns many speedy athletes, including defensive back and wide receiver A.J. Vance. Absegami relies on junior quarterback Rashad Kinlaw, who can hurt defenses with his arms and legs. Absegami edged EHT 17-14 last season.
St. Augustine Prep (4-6)
at Atlantic City (7-4)
7 p.m. today
Atlantic City began its run to the South Jersey Group IV playoffs by rallying in the fourth quarter to beat the Hermits 26-24. The Vikings will start a number of sophomores today but still have two of the CAL's most exciting skill position players in running back Radi Tolbert and wide receiver Ismail Naji. The Hermits return 16 starters, including lineman Austin Jackson, who is headed to Penn State. Running back John Barillo rushed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 16 touchdowns last season.
at Bridgeton (4-5)
7 p.m. today (1240 AM): David Dudley makes his debut as Pleasantville's coach. The Greyhounds feature fullback/linebacker Dontaye Rivera. Bridgeton, with 22 seniors, should contend for the South Jersey Group II playoffs. Linemen Sean Henigin and Christian Brown are college prospects. Quarterback Tamar Jackson is a four-year starter.
St. Joseph (10-1)
at Buena Regional (3-7)
7 p.m. today: St. Joe is No. 2 in The Press Elite 11 and the favorite to win the division and the state Non-Public I title. The Wildcats won the state Non-Public II title last season. St. Joe features a pair of standout defensive ends in Kaiwan Lewis and Max Valles, who are headed to South Carolina and Virginia, respectively. Jonathan Caputo takes over as Buena coach. The Chiefs are young with just three starters back on offense and three back on defense.
Ocean City (3-7) at Vineland (5-5)
7 p.m. today (98.7 FM): Kevin Smith makes his debut as Ocean City coach. The Red Raiders will emphasize the run on offense with running back Nick Zauck. Linebacker Bob DeLuce leads the defense. Vineland beat Ocean City 12-0 last year.
at Middle Township (1-9)
7 p.m. today (1440 AM): Millville returns numerous veterans from last season's team, which reached the South Jersey Group IV playoffs. Thunderbolts quarterback Shaq Lee threw for 1,065 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Running back Alquann Jones (861 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) is one of the CAL's quickest players. Middle features a veteran offensive and defensive line with seniors Brandon Belger, John Edwards and Joe Johnson.
Lower Cape May Regional (7-3)
at Cedar Creek (0-0)
1 p.m. Saturday (98.7 FM): Cedar Creek plays its first varsity game. The Pirates will play an independent schedule this year and join the CAL in 2012. Cedar Creek features talent at the skill positions in quarterback Damon Mitchell and wide receiver Gary Melton. Lower comes off one of the best seasons in school history. The Caper Tigers return quarterback Mike Mulligan (13 touchdown passes last season) and wide receiver Vance Matthews, who averaged 22.4 yards per catch in 2010.
Red Bank Catholic (8-2)
at Southern Regional (5-5)
7 p.m. today: Southern features its fastest team ever, under coach Chuck Donohue, who is beginning his 14th season with the Rams. Southern's offense won't be as conservative as in the past because of that speed. Red Bank Catholic is one of the Shore Conference's top teams. RBC beat Southern 34-7 in last season's opener.
at Rumson-Fair Haven (9-3)
7 p.m. today: Barnegat beat Rumson 34-27 in last season's opener. Rumson went on to win the Central Jersey Group II title. Barnegat features tight end Ryan Morris, who is headed to Purdue. Senior Mark McCoy, who will attend Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship, steps in at quarterback.
Monsignor Donovan (2-8)
at Pinelands Regional (5-5)
7 p.m. today: Pinelands features new starters at every position this season. A win today, would give the young Wildcats a confidence boost. Pinelands must slow down Donovan's option offense to win.
Wall Township (7-4)
at Lacey Township (12-0)
1 p.m. Saturday: Lacey is the defending South Jersey Group III champion. The Lions return just four starters but will promote a core of standouts from an undefeated junior varsity team. Lacey is No. 9 in The Press Elite 11. Lineman Tyrell Smith is one of the state's top college prospects. Wall quarterback Steve Cluley threw for 1,356 yards and 17 touchdowns last season.
West Jersey Football League
Cumberland Regional (7-3)
at Timber Creek (5-5)
7 p.m. today: Cumberland won its final five games last season. Quarterback Steve Garron leads the Colts. Timber Creek is expected to contend for a South Jersey Group III title.
Wildwood (0-9) at Salem (5-5)
11 a.m. Saturday: Wildwood returns a core of veterans led by quarterback Zak Barrett. Salem won 44-8 last season.
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