It might be a little later than in recent years, but the 2013 high school football season gets underway on Wednesday, Aug. 21 - the first day the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association allows teams to hold practices for the fall season. The regular season opens for most teams on Sept. 6, with a handful of teams waiting until Sept. 7.
Cross country, girls' soccer, volleyball, girls' swimming and boys' tennis teams will have to wait until Monday, Aug. 26, to begin practices.
The late start to the season brings with it one definite for the Whatcom County teams - the Northwest Washington Fair is over. No longer will teams - especially those in the county - have to worry about missing players who are involved with the fair during the first week of camp.
Instead, all 11 county teams can get down to business right away and start figuring things out.
Here is a look at some of the questions they'll be trying to answer:
1. What will Lynden look like in 2013?
There's no disputing the two-time defending Class 2A state champions lost a ton from 2012. The Lions graduated perhaps the most talented senior class the county has ever seen.
Not only was it talented, but it was deep. Lynden returns only three players that started on offense or defense in the state championship game against Tumwater in December - wide receiver Jalani Phelps, linebacker Jaremy Martin and defensive lineman Trent Postma.
But before you start counting the Lions out in 2013, remember the cupboard is never bare and coach Curt Kramme and his staff are as good as they come.
And don't forget how good Lynden was last year. The Lions were able to get so far ahead of teams that they were able to insert their reserves for most, if not all, of the second half in just about every game but the season opener against King's.
Yes, Lynden might be short on starting experience, but they are certainly not inexperienced.
Though it is based mostly on the fact that Lynden has won four of the past five state titles, MaxPreps.com has already tabbed the Lions No. 25 nationally in its Small Schools National rankings.
2. Is this the year a city school breaks through?
It's been five seasons since Bellingham advanced to the 2A state playoffs in 2007, and if you disregard the paperwork technicality that forced Archbishop Murphy to forfeit a district playoff win and opened the door for the Red Raiders, no city school has actually won its way into the state playoffs since Sehome in 1999. Squalicum is still seeking its first trip to state.
But this year the Storm have one of the most experienced rosters in the Northwest Conference. Two years of taking its lumps during on-the-job training could pay off for a talented Squalicum bunch that is hungry to get the school's first trip to the Sweet 16.
Sehome also is improving under second-year coach Bob Norvell. The Mariners saw an influx of big linemen last year. Combine that with talented skill-position players like Daniel Ziegler and Taylor Rapp, and Sehome should be in line to win a few more games this year.
Bellingham also could take steps forward in the second year under Steve Wilson. Wilson said the team has a couple of linemen to build around in Nick Hanks and Braden Farlow, and running back/receiver Noah Silverman could have a break-out year.
The biggest obstacle, besides Lynden, of course, is both Burlington-Edison and Sedro-Woolley expect to have talented teams this fall.
3. Who will emerge from a tough NWC 1A race?
Fortunately, five teams make it through to state from tri-district this year, meaning there could be a little more opportunity than last year.
Mount Baker had an unforgettable season, advancing to the Tacoma Dome for the first time in program history. Though the Mountaineers lost a ton up front and their leading rusher, they still should have some solid pieces to lean on in running back Izaiha Schwinden and quarterback Andrew Zender.
Blaine lost its big gun with the graduation of Mario Gobbato, but Cole Muder showed he should be able to step right in. The only problem is most of Gobbato's offensive line also graduated. Look for quarterback Nate Kramme to take a step forward, as well.
Though coach Bob Ames would probably disagree, Meridian always has to be at the center of any conversation. The Trojans look to get back to the 1A state playoffs for the seventh time in eight years. Meridian should be physical up front with perhaps the NWC's best lineman in Spencer Blackburn, but the Trojans will have to rely on some new faces at many of the skill positions.
Nooksack Valley definitely figures into the mix with Tanner Myhre starting behind center for the second straight year, though his receiving corps will look quite different this year.
Daulton Hommes likely will see more time at quarterback for Lynden Christian this year, but he, too, will have new targets to throw to as the Lyncs try to add their names to the list of contenders.
4. Who will carry the ball at Ferndale's wing-T?
The Golden Eagles rushed for 3,615 yards and gave 3A state champion Bellevue its toughest postseason challenge last year, but they graduated their top three running backs.
Starting quarterback Cooper Clark should be back for his senior season, but he only passed for 386 yards last year, meaning Ferndale will need to find offense somewhere else.
Anthony Fleck showed some promise last year with 238 yards and two TDs on 31 attempts, and others, no doubt, will emerge.
5. Can Lummi make another title run?
Coach Jim Sandusky believes he might have the best collection of athletes he's had in a program that has advanced to the 1B state playoffs each of the past nine years, won the 2010 state title and played for two others.
Once again, not only the Northwest 1B League title, but also the 1B state title, will probably come down to the Blackhawks and rival Neah Bay, though don't count out Lopez. The Red Devils have gotten the better of Lummi the past two years, but the Blackhawks are hungry.
They're also very talented. Lummi will have to replace its entire starting offensive line, but Sandusky said he believes this year's line could be even better, and with the wealth of talent he has at the skill positions, that could be scary.
WEEK 1 SCHEDULE
Friday, Sept. 6
Squalicum at Kingston, TBD
Lummi at Pomeroy, 6 p.m.
Anacortes at Friday Harbor, 7 p.m.
Nooksack Valley at Sehome (at Civic Stadium), 7 p.m.
Meridian at Burlington-Edison, 7 p.m.
Mount Vernon at Sedro-Woolley, 7 p.m.
Blaine at Ferndale, 7 p.m.
Omak at Lynden Christian, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 7
King's vs. Lynden (at Husky Stadium), 1 p.m.
Mount Baker at Bellingham (at Civic Stadium), 7 p.m.
Reach David Rasbach at 360-715-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org .