Football is in the air ... almost.

Locally, both high school and college coaching staffs are busy getting ready for the first practices next week.

There's also the other fall high school sports — boys' and girls' soccer, boys' and girls' cross country, volleyball, boys' golf and girls' tennis.

Really? Next week? Yes, next week. 

On the high school football scene, there will be a different look for teams like St. Thomas More, Hot Springs, Custer and Wall.

STM and Hot Springs are both moving down from the Class A ranks to Class B, while Custer is moving up from Class B to Class A. Wall is moving to 9A, up from 9B.

The 11B and 9-man teams will get underway early with practices beginning Monday as they prepare for the 2019 season with "Zero Week," starting  Aug. 23.

There will be some battles right off the bat. Maybe the biggest locally comes when Hot Springs and St. Thomas More open the season Aug. 23 at STM. Harding County also travels to Wall for a big 9-man battle.

Fans, sportswriters and sportscasters like to talk polls, and although the first high school poll hasn't come out, there's been some teasers passed on between the media.

Among the early prognostications see STM in the Top 5 in Class B, and some look the Cavs among the top Class B teams, led by seniors Ryder Kirsch at quarterback and Grant Huber at receiver.

Harding County is again being mentioned early as a 9B contender.

Look for a media poll and a poll by the South Dakota Football Coaches Association. We love polls.

As previously mentioned, the Journal's high school football special preview section/magazine is making a comeback after several years away.

The Journal has emailed 29 preview questionnaires, and at this writing about half (14) have been returned. A big thank you to those coaches and a friendly reminder to the others — please send soon. 

Although the season begins Aug. 23 for 11B and 9-man, the Journal's football preview will come out the 28th.

Here's a preview of the preview from a few coaches comments. They are all unbeaten to date and excited for the season, to be expected.

"We have the potential to have a great season," said Lead-Deadwood coach Tom Tieszen. "With a bit more difficult schedule it will be fun to see if our experienced and talented team can step up to the challenge and reach our fullest potential."

First-year Custer head coach David Williams: "Having everyone return from last year except one player, the leadership that we have in the football program that is developing a winning culture. Young players that are coming up that are going to contribute to our success this next year."

Said veteran Hot Springs coach Ben Kramer: "This group understands team dynamics. Everything we do is for the betterment of the team. They’re tough kids and are eager to establish themselves in a new classification."

Entering his 29th season at the helm, STM head coach Wayne Sullivan, as usual, is excited and anxious for the season to begin.

"Having only lost three starters from last years team, we are looking to compete at the highest level," said Sullivan. "Our players have worked very hard in the off season and are hungry to get STM back to the top tier. This season will depend on our senior leadership, and if the younger players step and accept their role and go a hundred miles an hour every play."

Former Rapid City Central coach Steve Svendsen will make his debut at Rapid City Stevens after many years away from the Black Hills.

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Over at Central, Erik Iverson looks to get his unique offense in gear, led by speedster Jeremy Weidmann.

Look for Sturgis to be in the mix on the Class 11AA ranks, as head coach Chris Koletzky's program year-by-year has shown improvement.

Over in Box Elder, longtime Douglas head coach Dan Maciejczak will be looking to continue his rebuilding plan with the young Patriots.

In the Northern Hills, Belle Fourche will look to challenge and improve from last year's 5-4 mark, led again by running back Kelby Olson, who ran for 848 yards last season, scoring 10 touchdowns.

"This team is built with kids that are ready to win. We are trying to change the culture in Belle and we want to make football a lot more fun. Winning really helps that," said Belle coach Scott Slotten. 

In 9-man, Wall and Harding County look to battle for prime playoff positions this season in their respective divisions. The Eagles, under head coach Lex Heathershaw, lost some talent through graduation, but he has built a solid base to continue moving forward.

Wall was 10-1, with its lone loss in the Class 9B semifinals to eventual state champion Colome. 

"We are excited for another year of Eagle football," Heathershaw said. "After a tough loss to Colome last year in the semi-final round our players are hungry to get back into football. We lost a talented senior class, but we have some key pieces returning, as well as other players that are excited for a big opportunity this year."

Things continue to look strong again up north in Buffalo, as Harding County has some weapons again offensively, led by first-team all-state wide receiver Zack Anders.

It will also be interesting to see how things shape up in the new All Nations Football Conference. Not much information has been made available, but just looking at the South Dakota High School Activities Association website, Pine Ridge is still listed in the SDHSAA schedules, while a majority of the other Native American schools are not.

There's no real predictions here despite these mini-looks from area coaches. Once the games play out, then we'll know.

One thing I can tell you is there will be no mention of getting to the Dome (Vermillion) this season. Construction there has sent the state title games in Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on the South Dakota State campus.

We'll need a new slogan.


Over at South Dakota School of Mines, Hardrocker players will report for good this weekend with various get-togethers before the first official practice on Tuesday.

The same can be said at Black Hills State, while Chadron State just began its fall camp.

Chadron State, under former BHSU coach and Sturgis native Jay Long, is excited for the season, as the Eagles were picked third in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference coaches preseason poll.

Mines was sixth and Black Hills State was ninth.

Chadron State and Black Hills State will butt heads early, opening the season Sept. 7 at Lyle Hare Stadium in Spearfish.

Mines, meanwhile, will host a very good Colorado Mesa program the same day.

If you are wondering, the Battle for the Homestake Trophy between Mines and BHSU will also be in Spearfish this year on Oct. 12.

But first practices first. After all, it is still August ... I think.

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