Pat Kenney • Aug 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The Weather Channel tells us we’re still in the dog days of summer.

But the calendar says it’s time for high school football in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Change is in the air on both sides of the state line, both on and off the field.

After winning 12 of the last 14 Big East Conference regular season titles, and the last seven in a row, Dobyns-Bennett has been selected third in the coaches’ preseason poll.

Bearden and Sevier County are picked first and second, respectively, with the Indians third. Science Hill, under new coach Scott Smith, is picked fourth.

The Mountain Lakes Conference is one place where change may be hard to find.

Sullivan South, the two-time defending Mountain Lakes regular season champ, is led by all-state quarterback Curt Phillips, who has verbally committed to Wisconsin.

The Rebels are odds-on favorites to repeat with Phillips at the helm.

Tennessee High and Johnson County gets the nod to finish second and third, respectively.

The Five Rivers Conference is another league hard pressed to make any sudden changes.

Morristown West is the coaches’ favorite with Morristown East a close second. Both teams went deep into the TSSAA playoffs last season and expect more of the same this year.

Daniel Boone is a solid third in the Five Rivers with an up and coming Volunteer squad picked to again make the playoffs.

For fans of Southwest Virginia football, realignment has changed the landscape.

The Highlands District is gone, and Region D has expanded to four districts with the formation of the new Clinch Mountain District.

Gate City comes over from the Lonesome Pine District and is joined by Lebanon, John Battle and former Group AA schools Lee High and Virginia High.

The Clinch Mountain coaches foresee a close race for the first league crown with Lebanon picked first and the Blue Devils and Bearcats tied for second.

With Gate City and Coeburn departing, the LPD becomes a six-team league.

J.I. Burton, a school that has played in three straight VHSL Group A, Division 1 championship games, appears to be the class of the LPD this season.

Led by all-state quarterback Ethan Stewart, the Raiders want nothing less than another shot at the state title this season. They lost 21-20 to Riverheads in last year’s controversial VHSL title contest and finished 13-1.

With most of the key components back from that team, Burton looks to bring home a state trophy from Harrisonburg this time around.

Powell Valley is picked second in the LPD coaches’ poll with improving Clintwood third.

The Cumberland District also was affected by the VHSL realignment. Coeburn moves over from the LPD to make it a seven-team league.

St. Paul and Rye Cove were dead even in the district coaches’ poll with Coeburn not far behind. Castlewood got a good deal of respect in the poll so it appears that before the dust settles, winning the Cumberland crown could turn into quite a battle.

As with every new season, coaching changes abound.

Shawn Witten takes over at his alma mater in Elizabethton with Anthony Nelson taking the reins at Sullivan Central.

Science Hill’s Smith promises to liven things up in the Big East with his run-and-gun offense. Only time will tell if that approach will lift the Hilltoppers higher in the standings in the rough and tumble Big East Conference.

Chris Crabtree, who led Ervinton to seven wins last year and a berth in the playoffs for the first time in recent memory, has moved to Pound in the LPD.

Ethan Owens, a two-year assistant at Ervinton, takes over the Rebels’ program.

Much is made of wins and losses, but in reality it is the effort given in each and every game that will be remembered the most.

Players must enter the field of play ready to give their all for their teammates and their schools. They should leave with their heads held high, knowing there was nothing left to give.

That is what truly defines a successful season.

Our weekly prep previews will again appear in the Thursday sports section of the Times-News with college previews on Saturdays and NFL previews on Sundays.

The ever popular Times-News Picking Panel will also be published in our Thursday editions through the regular season.

After intense negotiations and a bit of arm twisting, the renowned prognosticator “Famous Amos” Hoople will again impart his wisdom and near-perfect picks in our Friday sports section for regular season games on both sides of the state line.

Once again sports writer John Moorehouse and sports/news editor Andrea Hensley put together the high school football tab. Sports writers Bill Lane, George Thwaites, Jack Goodson and Dave Ongie contributed the previews and features while Brian Fagerburg and Wes Bunch assisted in the production of the tab.

Times-News graphic artist Karen Crigger designed this year’s cover with chief photographer David Grace and his staff of Ned Jilton II and Erica Yoon taking many of the photos.

Thanks go out to the photographers at our sister publication the Johnson City Press for their help with this year’s football tab.

Pat Kenney is executive sports editor of the Times-News. E-mail him at pkenney@timesnews.net.

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