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“Big-11” High School Friday Night Lights Set For 2019 Kickoff

New coaches, new classifications and some very impressive coaches and rosters highlight the upcoming high school football season in the Roanoke-area “Big-11”.
Despite plenty of requests to resume my weekly prediction column, I’ll stay on the sidelines again this year, following the advice of my Las Vegas cohort, Harry “The Weasel”. Harry, after my 80-10 Roanoke Star prediction record in “Big-11” games in 2015, emphatically told me to retire the Ouija Board and go out on top.
Predictions in high school football can be challenging, but here’s a few that look solid heading into this year’s slate of games.
Fans should have an easy time selecting a great game to watch on any given weekend through November. And, don’t be surprised if late fall gives the opportunity for several of our “Big-11” squads to make a serious run at a state title.
North Cross gets the jump on everyone when they open their 2019 campaign a week early on August 24 against Nansemond-Suffolk. And, you can make a pretty strong prediction there won’t be any Friday night lights with this matchup. The game takes place on a Saturday, and with no lights at Thomas Field on the North Cross campus, kickoff is set for 3 pm.
No such problem with a lack of Friday night lights at Dwight Bogle Stadium, home to both Cave Spring and Hidden Valley. Except for September 27, when both teams have road games, and October 11, when Hidden Valley enjoys a bye week, one team or the other will be playing at Bogle every Friday night. Each team will play at Bogle on a rare back-to-back lineup Thursday, September 19 when Hidden Valley entertains Glenvar, and Friday, September 20 when Alleghany comes to Bogle to take on Cave Spring. The Knights and Titans play their traditional  regular season finale on November 8th. By then, odds are also pretty good 80-degree kickoffs will have given way to blankets, parkas and stocking hats.
Two new coaches take over at a pair of “Big-11” schools and it’s virtually a sure bet that both the coaches they replaced will become VHSL Hall of Famers. Don Holter takes the reigns at Salem where Stephen Magenbauer rang up 5 state championships and 169 wins over 15 seasons.
At William Byrd, which has dropped from Class 4 to Class 3, Brad Lutz takes over for Jeff Highfield, who paced the Terrier sideline for 38 years, mostly in his signature orange and white oxfords. As many of you already know, Highfield and I both graduated from Andrew Lewis High School in ….well, let’s leave that out. But, it’s obvious that close ties to high school football have left both of us with our youthful Hollywood-like good looks.
Jamie Harless enters his eighth season as the head coach at Lord Botetourt. Since he took over in 2012, Botetourt has had a winning season every year, and qualified for postseason play every year, including advancing to the state final in 2015. Not a bad turnaround considering Botetourt had not had a winning season for 13 years prior to Harless’ arrival.
Don’t expect the Harless streak to be interrupted in 2019. This Cavalier team is loaded and worth a look at every opportunity. The only big question if you’re driving down Route 220 in Daleville on a Friday night with the lights on at the stadium…. Can you find a parking spot and a seat in the stands? Under Harless, Botetourt football has redefined standing room only.
Cave Spring’s Tim Fulton enters 2019 as the Dean of “Big-11” head coaches. But, don’t think Fulton is ready for a rocking chair. As a coach at Cave Spring, he’s mentored the likes of Tiki and Ronde Barber, current Redskins quarterback hopeful Josh Woodrum and 2-time Super Bowl ring recipient for the New England Patriots and former UVA snapper, Danny Aiken. Add to that a long list of doctors, lawyers and businessmen, and it’s an easy pick that Fulton has his players heading in the right direction on and off the field.
Head coach Bob Price and Roanoke Catholic look to continue their 31-game win streak and pursue their fourth straight VISAA state championship. Along with North Cross, both teams will face a nine game schedule in 2019, partially due to the fact that many potential private school opponents that play football have gone to the 8-man format. Still, it’s easy to predict the stands and sidelines will be lined with spectators several-deep when the Celtics and Stephen Alexander’s Raiders meet on Saturday, September 21 at 2 pm at North Cross. This one should be a barnburner.
Other outstanding “Big-11” coaches will return to action this season including Jamar Lovelace who has retooled the entire mindset at William Fleming, Alan Fiddler at Patrick Henry in the always-tough 5A ranks, Glenvar’s Kevin Clifford and his perennial 2A powerhouse Highlanders, along with 3A standouts, Northside’s Scott Fisher and Hidden Valley’s Scott Weaver.
If you’re a fan of good ole mud-fest football on slippery grass, you can mark Glenvar’s Highlander Field off your travel destination. Glenvar adds artificial turf in 2019, leaving the only “Big-11” schools playing home games on grass the two private schools, Botetourt and Northside.
High school football returns to the television airwaves again in 2019, as the media production class at Franklin County High School kicks off its fifth season of “High School Football Playback Game of the Week” with Hall of Fame broadcaster Dave Ross and color commentator Steve Myers. A top game each Friday night is replayed Saturday afternoon on Channel CW5 (Cox Cable channel 5). Check your listings for times on your cable provider. Things kick off with Patrick Henry and Hidden Valley in Week-1, followed by Northside taking on Cave Spring the following week.
One final observation that is a sure bet. From football to cheerleaders to entertaining halftime band performances, a high school football game is the place to be this fall in the “Big-11”. Get out and have fun supporting your favorite team.
Bill Turner

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