The Preseason Kickoff Classic looms next Friday. A week later comes the season opener, beginning Thursday night on Aug. 25 with Choctaw welcoming Pace to Joe Etheredge Stadium.
On the doorsteps of our best tradition returning to the Emerald Coast, a preseason Power Rankings seemed timely. As does stirring the pot a bit.
With that said, we'll check back after Kickoff Classic to re-rank following first impressions. Agree or disagree with our ranks? Let us hear it.
Who else? The Eagles have a 10-game win streak over Choctaw, a four-game win streak over Crestview, a two-game win streak over Navarre and haven't lost to Fort Walton Beach on the field since 2007 (last year's 45-8 victory was forfeited due to self-reporting an ineligible player). Niceville is the benchmark of area programs, and the Eagles simply reload in the face of graduating Players of the Year Austin Firestone (Northwestern) and Azareyeh Thomas (FSU) and quarterback Addie Moore. Harrison Orr takes over under center under the protection of lauded lineman Joe Hanson, while defensive back Jayden Sheppard and linebacker Christian Caballero lead a young defense.
Next Game: vs. North Miami Beach, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. at Eagle Stadium
Last year, Choctaw flexed on Fort Walton and beat Crestview in a 16-13 nailbiter en route to a 4-1 start. This year the Big Green are looking for that hot stretch to extend to the whole season. Why the optimism? Quarterback Jesse Winslette returns committed to making plays with his feet and not just his right arm — the spring game validated that dual threat outlook — and Cole Tabb seems like a shoo-in for 2,000 rushing yards. Jayce Brown is also the area's best receiver. Meanwhile Jashawn Armstrong and David Pettway lead a defensive unit that looks the part physically. They say Year 2 of a head coach is the biggest growth year. Frank Beasley is looking to prove that adage true.
Next Game: vs. Pace, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. at Joe Etheredge Stadium
Stop me if you've heard this before. The Raiders have a stacked offensive line, a talented special teams and no shortage of playmakers in specialty positions (Zavier Hamilton and Terence Marshall leading the charge). Losing linebackers Devon Wright and Christian Caballero is no small void, while quarterback Kyle Chambers and lead back Chris Decarte (weightlifting state champ) have graduated. With that said, several question marks loom for Jay Walls and Co. if they're to be counted as region title contenders.
Next Game: at FWB, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. at Steve Riggs Stadium
The Thomas Grant era begins, and it comes with a talented core returning: tailback Jason Jones, quarterback Jerome Brazan, defensive end Marion Hawthrone, WR/DB Simeon White, left tackle Peyton Knight and right tackle Michael Carson. Coming off a 6-4 year in Tim Hatten's final season, this Bulldogs crew is on the cusp of turning a corner. But the schedule has its obstacles with archrival Niceville, Choctaw and Mosley looming.
Next Game: at Gulf Breeze, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
This is the "three yards and a cloud of dust" era for Fort Walton, which for too long has struggled to move the chains on the ground. Going 1-9 last year vs. teams with a combined 72-36 record was humbling, the product of an offense averaging just 9.2 points per game after seven single-digit scoring outputs, two shutouts and only once topping 14 points. A running back by committee of Ethan Davis, Takhari Barnes, Jereme Earl, Ramon Sampson and Ben Harkins is looking to change that. The maturation of a green offensive line and quarterback Garrison Kurtz is vital. As always, Chip Petree is radiating positivity.
Next Game: vs. Navarre, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
Walton beat defending state champion Baker, finished 9-2, made the Sweet 16 and celebrated Keith White as COY and Jawaun Campbell as DPOY last season. What's not to love about White's first year at the Braves' helm? Year 2 brings back Makei Jones at tailback, Keyaunte Miller at quarterback and a Campbell-led defense. This team flew under the radar last year. No longer.
Next Game: at Marianna, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
Baker and Thanksgiving practices ... a time-honored tradition. During a stretch of six Final Fours, the Gators have been alive in the playoffs seven straight years come Turkey Day. Barry Gardner, who took over for Matt Brunson in the offseason, looks to carry the torch. Fortunately for him, electric back Kayleb Wagner returns for his senior year to lead the Wing-T after posting 3,352 rushing yards and 38 touchdowns the last two years. As do linebacker Ethan Williams and defensive end Jace Tolbert, and a mountain of a man in right tackle Kurt Armstrong.
Next Game: at South Walton, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
8. South Walton
The Seahawks lost Air Force QB Kemper Hodges, the POY after posting 3,077 yards and 34 TDs through the air and 1,169 yards and 26 TDs on the ground. They lost USF receiver Cade Roberts, Florida's all-time leader in receptions with 261 catches. Then in the offseason they lost Georgia commit Pierce Spurlin to an injury that'll keep him out until October at the very least. Needless to say, this isn't the 10-2, region finals crew of yesteryear. Phil Tisa's coaching acumen will be tested in a rebuilding year that begins with Baker and FWB on the slate.
Next Game: vs. Baker, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
Coming off a 4-7 campaign that nearly produced a playoff upset of Holmes County, the Bulldogs return QB Ashton Nunes (2,549 passing yards, 30 TDs), LB/RB Tracker Thomaston (167 tackles) and WR Robbie Durgen (632 receiving yards, eight TDs). There's a lot of evidence pointing to an improved Dogs squad fighting for an above-.500 campaign.
Next Game: at Blountstown, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
10. Rocky Bayou
Robert Vilardo had the Knights 6-4 and playoff bound in his first year at the helm. Year 2 offers more promise as his system further takes hold. The Knights will be contenders in the D1-1S race.
Up Next: at Snook Christian Academy, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m.
Welcome to the Power Ranks, E.G. Green and Co.! We wish we had better news for you, but we need to see more of the Sharks before the Kickoff Classic vs. Rocky Bayou.
Up Next: at Baker, Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. at Doug Griffith Memorial Stadium
Follow sports editor Seth Stringer on twitter at @SethSnwfdn.
This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: high school football power ranks for Daily News have Niceville, Choctaw, Navarre, Crestview, FWB ranked 1-5