A new high school football season opens at 7:30 p.m., but local coaches are not going gently into this good night.
No, instead many have scheduled tough opening games designed to test their team to its limits as early as possible.
"We go right into the fire," said Ridgeview coach Dennis Manning, whose team begins its Central Section Division III title defense at home against defending Southwest Yosemite League champion Frontier. "Those guys are really good. That's a really strong, fast, good-looking football team we're playing."
Manning said defensive captain Preveon Alexander, a linebacker, is out tonight with a shoulder injury. Sophomore Lawrence White emerged from a four-way battle to win the starting quarterback position.
No matter which Ridgeview players suit up, though, Frontier coach Rich Cornford knows his team will have no honeymoon period, either.
"Dennis has really created quite a program over there," Cornford said. "I think it's important. You don't ever want your players looking past the first game. If you schedule somebody really tough, then all spring and summer, kids are always focused on that first game."
For Frontier, that test extends throughout the non-league season: The Titans host powerful Lompoc and travel to another Southern Section contender, Moorpark, before returning home to face defending Division I section champion Clovis North.
"I think it's so critical," Cornford said. "If you schedule down too much, you really don't know your own team very well, where your weaknesses are. But if you schedule up, it's all right there in living color on (game) film."
Nowhere is that sentiment expressed more clearly than at Bakersfield High, where the Drillers open tonight with a 7 p.m. game at Westlake Village-Oaks Christian, the No. 19 team in Cal Hi Sports' preseason rankings. BHS is ranked No. 23.
"We talk to our kids about when you go out in life, you want to be challenged," Drillers coach Paul Golla said. "You can't be afraid of failing. And we believe we work hard and have a chance to play with people right away."
Oaks Christian, 8-3 a year ago, returns senior quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who is verbally committed to Arizona, plus all five starting offensive linemen. In all, seven Lions are given at least a two-star rating by Rivals.com.
"We can't give up big plays; we've got to keep them in front of us," Golla said. "And then turnovers on offense. The (three) losses we had last year, we turned the ball over."
Bakersfield Christian, which was 10-3 and the section's Division IV runner-up last year, faces a different sort of challenge: The school with enrollment of 463 students, travels to face Huntington Beach, which has enrollment of about 2,800.
Speaking of long trips, Stockdale made one last year to face Stockton-St. Mary's, a Sac-Joaquin Section power that stopped the Mustangs on the St. Mary's 20-yard line last year in the dying minutes to hold on to a 31-26 victory.
The Rams make the return trip this season.
"They're big and athletic up front," Stockdale coach Mike Snow said. "They're a big, physical team with good team speed. It's a good test for us to see where we are."
Stockdale scheduled a tough opener almost out of necessity -- two schools that it had previously scheduled dropped out of agreements, and the Mustangs ended a state-wide scramble last year by signing a two-year deal with St. Mary's. But forced or not, Snow likes the change.
"You don't learn anything about your team or improve if you blow somebody out," said Snow, whose team opened the 2011 season with wins over East and West by a combined score of 107-16 but then won just two more games all season. "You think you've got the world by the tail, and it doesn't work that way. It's better to face some adversity."
Rage, rage, then, against a weak schedule.
"It's fun," Manning said. "It's a lot of pressure on our young group, but it gets the kids motivated. Hopefully we'll rise to the challenge."