CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's never been too early to sink your teeth into a little high school football, even before the calendar flips to July. So here goes:
This season, Martinsburg will be out to do something no one else has ever accomplished, as the Bulldogs take aim at a fourth straight Class AAA championship. Last fall, they matched Charleston High's run of three in a row from 1968-70.
"Our kids, I'm definitely sure that's in the back of their minds,'' said Martinsburg coach Dave Walker. "We really don't talk about it.
"I'd like to think anything's possible, but it's going to be hard for us to maintain the level of success we've had. It will be extremely hard to do. But our kids have worked hard [in the three-week out-of-season practice period that ends today] and as long as they do that and give me everything they've got, whatever happens, happens.
"Four in a row with who we lose is going to be a big challenge. It'll be tough, but we're pleased how the kids have worked in the spring to make that commitment to make themselves better. We've got a demanding, tough schedule. We've got to survive that first.''
The Bulldogs return only three starters from last year's defense and either two or three on offense.
The uncertainty on offensive returnees involves running back Trey Boyd, who started as a sophomore last year following his transfer from Island Coast, a 6A high school in Florida. Boyd (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) carried 106 times for 832 yards and 14 touchdowns for Martinsburg despite missing close to half the season with an injury.
Boyd and his family moved back to Florida following the football season for financial reasons, Walker said, allowing his father to pursue a job opportunity.
"I don't know what's going to happen,'' Walker said earlier this week. "Here's up here now in town, up for a visit. His mom and dad are thinking of relocating. He's not been working with us. They want to come back. I know they're talking about coming back. We'll have to wait and see in August if that pans out.
"Trey's a good player. I wouldn't be too upset if they did relocate back up here, but you've got to do what's best for your family.''
In the title game at Wheeling Island Stadium, Boyd carried 17 times for 193 yards and two TDs as the Bulldogs cruised past previously unbeaten Cabell Midland 38-14. Boyd's 83-yard scoring burst set a Class AAA championship game record.
Walker thinks his team will be solid at running back even if Boyd doesn't return. Walker points to junior-to-be Eric Brown (5-11, 175), a younger brother of all-state receiver and Ohio University recruit Cedric Brown, as a potential standout.
Eric Brown, who started at outside linebacker last year, carried 23 times for 210 yards and six TDs in spot duty as a sophomore.
"He's real good,'' Walker said. "We're really deep at running back. We've got three seniors who are pretty good.''
Walker thinks this year's team can draw some parallels with past squads that may have overachieved in sweeping three straight titles.
"It wound up kind of funny,'' Walker said. "The first one, I think we really didn't expect it at the beginning of the year, but we lost Kam Puller [returning quarterback to an illness] and the kids rallied around that. The second one, we'd have been disappointed if we hadn't gotten back [to the title game]. They kind of expected it, especially around here.
"Last year, we lost a bunch of kids from the previous year, and this group kind of surprised me a little bit last year. So I know they're not going to give up easy.''
The last team in any division to take four straight crowns was Class A Wheeling Central from 2004-07.
Renovations at venerable Stadium Field in Parkersburg are "on schedule as of right now,'' according to PHS athletic director Lori Lowers.
The 90-year-old facility was forced to close its bleacher seating sections late last November after a visual inspection indicated the concrete structures were decaying and not safe for use.
Thus began a three-part, nearly $2 million project to replace the defects in time for the coming football season. All but $700,000 of that total must be raised privately.
"When they sprang that on us, it hit us fast and hard,'' Lowers said of the bleachers being condemned. "But there's been a huge community effort. Everybody's helping out, and everyone's trying to raise money every day.
"Our pee-wee football team just gave us a $1,000 check to help out. When we needed to take the [old] bleachers out, a crew of parents and kids helped. Little things like that to help save money and get the kids involved. Everybody's been working so hard, and a lot of people have donated time and effort.''
A group of students went door to door in the town's neighborhoods seeking donations for the project. Students and volunteers held a car wash fundraiser, while others sold T-shirts and bracelets bearing the phrase, "I Helped Save The Stadium.''
The football team's home opener is set for Aug. 30 against Warren Local (Ohio), and Lowers is hopeful the stadium will be ready for use by that time - even if the project isn't 100 percent complete.
"We're looking to finish just the home side - the press box side - and have it ready for games,'' Lowers said. "We'll be ready.''
Two Kanawha Valley teams are scheduled to make trips to Stadium Field this season - Capital on Sept. 20 and George Washington on Oct. 25.
Besides football, Stadium Field also hosts soccer games and middle school and private school athletic events.
Revenue from concession stand sales at football games helps fund the wrestling and band programs, and Stadium Field is the primary source of revenue for all the school's athletic programs through football and soccer ticket sales, reserved parking fees and sponsors signs that ring the facility.
So more teams are affected by the project than just the football squad, making renovations all the more imperative. Lowers noted there were other hurdles to clear.
"Our situation was compounded a little bit, and I don't think people all understood. They said, 'Why not just put aluminum over top of the old ones?' The issue is that Stadium Field is on the [National Register of Historic Places]. Whenever you're doing something with the historical society, you have to go with their rules and regulations. You've got to replace like with like.''
Donations may be sent to Parkersburg High School in care of Charlotte Potter, Stadium Field Committee, 2101 Dudley Ave., Parkersburg, WV 26101. Donations can be made online at PHSBigRedsFootball.com through PayPal.
The number of schools around the state kicking off their football games at 7 p.m. has risen by two to 19 this season.
Most of the schools are located in either the Northern or Eastern panhandles - Elkins, Frankfort, Greenbrier East, Hampshire, Hedgesville, Jefferson, Keyser, Madonna, Martinsburg, Montcalm, Musselman, Oak Glen, Petersburg, Spring Mills, Tyler Consolidated, Washington, Weir, Wheeling Central and Wheeling Park.
Still no movement among far-flung teams in either the AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference (which stretches into eight different counties) or the AA Cardinal Conference (six counties) to follow suit and ditch 7:30 kickoffs.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.