Big ‘House and I spent all of last week (and I’m pretty sure today — that sound you just heard was R-Dub cursing Thursday’s rain) visiting all 14 of the high schools in our coverage area that play varsity football.

I stopped at eight of those. Randy hit six. Not sure what that cost him. Ah, well, have no fear: Next year there will be 15 or 16 teams, depending upon expansion (Telstar, Monmouth) and consolidation (Jay, Livermore Falls).

In any case, other than the tour leaving me firmly committed to 10 hours in my easy chair with a coffee cup in hand today, here’s a sampling of what I learned about the season that starts Friday:

1. Joel Stoneton is Lou Holtz’s long-lost grandson. Seriously, while everyone else in the world talked up Stoneton’s Winthrop Ramblers as THE favorite in Western Class C, Stoneton himself extolled the virtues of everyone from Oak Hill to Maranacook to Madison-Carrabec. “We’d like to be able to host a home playoff game,” he said. Yeah, and I’d ‘like’ to be able to gain five pounds over Thanksgiving weekend.

2. Controlled scrimmages are glorified practices. If you stake your hopes for your school’s first state championship since the Fillmore administration on a 14-0 victory over the defending conference champion in that first Monday exhibition, you’re out of your mind. The coaches communicate by phone the night before and either divulge their entire game plan or lie completely about their intentions, depending upon how much confidence or humility their teams need. The visiting bus shows up 20 minutes before the scheduled start. And then the coaching staffs stand behind the line of scrimmage all afternoon, stopping just short of moving linemen like chess pieces before each snap. An actual game, it’s not.

3. If there’s ever a “Hard Knocks: The Maine High School Edition”, it’d be a coin-flip between Mountain Valley and Leavitt as far as what would make the funniest and most compelling TV. Oh, wait: Mountain Valley already had its hi-definition moment in “The Rivals.” Go with the Hornets.

4. You win with seniors. That said, this should be a fun year on the local front. Winthrop starts 19. Mt. Blue, 17. Edward Little and Poland are dominated by the Class of 2011. Not necessarily predicting a state championship for any of them (well, except Winthrop … sorry, Joel), but an early win or two by the others could heighten expectations in a hurry.

5. Visiting the Jay and Livermore Falls practices and realizing it might be the final summer camp for each athletic program before they combine as the Andy Valley High School Bengals (or whatever) was a sad day. My first, second and third high school football games as a spectator were part of that one-of-a-kind series in the 1970s. Hate to see it go. But the number of bodies I saw at each school tell me that it’s time.

6. The Maine Principals’ Association reclassification plan needs to be approved, as is. No, it isn’t fair to everybody. Neither is life. But it is the most equitable and intelligent response to the sport’s unthinkable growth (33 percent in 20 years).

7. People trust me a lot. So far I haven’t quoted a coach swearing or told anyone the “real story” about Jimmy Bob’s leg injury. Or made fun of Cape Elizabeth. Hey, the season’s off to a good start.

8. Edward Little was fortunate to find a guy of Dave Sterling’s caliber on such short notice. Auburn deserves its reputation as one of the most brutal places in Maine to coach high school football. But I think even the hardest-to-please Red Eddies fans will like Travis Dube’s 11th hour, 59th minute replacement.

9. The talking heads of TV weather are watching a tropical storm that could approach the Maine coast on Friday night. Mt. Blue, God bless them, will play anyway. Couple of other schools will postpone on Wednesday. And they/we know who they are. Stay tuned.

10. I’ll be in Livermore Falls on Friday night. How about you?


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