Five things to watch in Missouri high school football openers

Friday nights under the lights are back. Missouri high schools kick off the 2013 football season Friday. Here are five things to watch in the openers:

1 Heat wave:

So much for a mild summer. The extreme heat arrived just in time to play a role in the openers. With Kansas City forecasts calling for triple-digit temperatures Friday, several games across on the opening-week schedule have been pushed back to an 8 p.m. kickoff. The heat may still play a factor, though, especially considering the Missouri State High School Activities Association limited the number of fall practice sessions this fall. Teams were allowed only two weeks of practice in full pads, part of a new 16-day acclimatization period. Will they be prepared for Friday’s conditions? We’ll find out.

2 Another classic?

ESPN’s cameras won’t be around this time, but Lee’s Summit West-Staley is still every bit the high-profile matchup it was a year ago. The Missouri Class 5 powerhouse programs will meet at Staley at 8 p.m. Lee’s Summit West is loaded with skill players — senior wide receiver Monte Harrison and junior running back Ryan Williams headline that list — but Staley has nine players returning on defense. Two years ago, Staley defeated Lee’s Summit West 76-70 on its way to the Class 5 title. The Titans earned revenge last year, winning 23-0.

3 Running backs are golden:

Want to catch a glimpse of the area’s best running backs Friday? Look no farther than the Suburban Gold Conference, which is home to several of them. Dalvin Warmack (Blue Springs), Steve Brown (Raymore-Peculiar), Casey Slaughter (Lee’s Summit), Josh Caldwell (Lee’s Summit North) and David Graves (Liberty) all topped 800 rushing yards last season. Warmack, of course, is the reigning Thomas A. Simone Award winner and has committed to Kansas State. His Blue Springs Wildcats, the defending Class 6 champions, play host to St. Joseph Central at 8 p.m.

4 New faces on the sidelines:

The opening week of the season will offer a fresh start for several programs with new head coaches. Todd Vaughn (Belton), Mark Thomas (Odessa), Gregg Webb (Truman), Josh Hood (Park Hill), Damon Fishback (Ruskin), Josh Buford (Excelsior Springs), Steven Trumble (African Centered), Henry Newell (Lincoln Prep), Nick Chapman (Orrick) and Nate Danneman (West Platte) are among the coaches set to make their debuts with new teams Friday and Saturday.

5 Don’t sleep on these:

An opening-week preview wouldn’t be complete without a list of some sleeper teams to key an eye on. Two will meet opening night. Liberty travels to play Winnetonka at 8 p.m., a game that will be played at North Kansas City. Both teams are expected to compete for conference championships a year after finishing in the middle of the pack. St. Pius X and Raytown South are two more teams that could see major improvement this fall. And if you didn’t learn your lesson from last year, never, ever sleep on Platte County. The Pirates play host to William Chrisman.