It's here. As the final days of August inch closer, as summer winds to a bittersweet close and the nights grow cooler, the tantalizing prospect of high school football comes into focus. Two-a-days begin. Playbooks are tweaked and memorized. Players spend countless hours on rundown practice fields and in stuffy weight rooms, hoping to leave a legacy on Friday nights.
This season is as intriguing as ever, with loads of storylines. Can Don Bosco Prep, Aledo and Cocoa continue their impressive winning streaks? Can Bishop Gorman and Warren Central ascend into the prep football pantheon? Perhaps most important, where will the top recruits of the class of 2012 land? All will be answered in time.
Each Monday, SI.com will unveil its Top 10. One thing seems certain: Many powerhouse programs are primed for success. Of the 25 teams listed, 15 won their respective league championships in 2010.
Don Bosco has won 35 consecutive games, 59 of its last 60 and five straight New Jersey state titles. A perennial powerhouse, the Ironmen are again loaded in 2011. The Fab Four -- defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, cornerback Yuri Wright, receiver Leonte Carroo and safety and running back Elijah Shumate -- head up the nation's best senior class.
De La Salle rolled through last year's CIF North Coast Section playoffs, winning each game by at least four touchdowns. The Spartans should be equally dominant this season. Quarterback Bart Houston, a Wisconsin commit who threw for 1,922 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2010, leads the aerial attack.
Armwood bullied opponents with its physical play last season, rushing for 212 yards per game and recording four shutouts. Expect more of the same this fall. Three offensive linemen have multiple Division-I offers and Eric Striker, an Oklahoma commit, mans the middle at linebacker.
Three of Prattville's four losses last season were by three points or fewer as the Lions had an atypical down year. They seem primed for a return to glory in 2011, spearheaded by Tuscaloosa-bound quarterback Justin Thomas and 300-pound defensive tackle Justin Shanks.
The team to beat in talent-rich Texas, Allen has arguably the most balanced roster in the nation. The offense boasts 6-foot-4 quarterback Alec Morris (2,533 yards, 22 touchdowns in 2010), while the defense features three potential all-district linebackers in Thaddeus LaGrone, Nick Cobb and Chris Hudson.
Bishop Gorman, 54-4 with four state titles since 2006, will again be dominant behind tailback Shaquille Powell. But the Gaels' schedule is brutal with matchups looming against Chaparral (Ariz.), Armwood and Servite (Calif.).
St. Thomas Aquinas must adapt to life without coach George Smith, a six-time state champion during his legendary 34-year tenure. But the pieces are in place for a repeat. Defensive end Jelani Hamilton headlines another elite Raiders' recruiting class.
Trinity returns seven starters on both sides of the ball, beginning with Brian Nance, a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker who may be the best in the state. The Trojans are also due, having captured state titles in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
The Tigers beat opponents by an average of 38 points last season and bring back Antonio Connor, a two-way threat, and Issac Gross, a defensive force on the line.
A model of consistency, Harrison has won 13 state titles under coach John Herrington. In addition to a stellar defense, the Hawks boast the nation's top receiving corps: Aaron Burbridge, Gairus Coleman and tight end Devin Funchess.
Dwyer's defense notched four shutouts last season, surrendering 6.64 points per game. The offense is potent this season. In addition to four-star offensive lineman Patrick Miller, the Panthers add three-star quarterback Faton Bauta, a 6-3, 225-pound transfer from Poly Prep (Brooklyn, N.Y.) who doubles as a fullback and linebacker.
Bolstered by a star-studded defensive line with Notre Dame commit Sheldon Day and Cincinnati commit Josh Posley, Warren Central has the roster to compete with anyone. However, the Warriors won't be tested. A lack of any out-of-state games could make it difficult for Warren to showcase its full potential.
An offensive juggernaut last season, Trinity scored 40 points in 10 of 16 games. It could be better in 2011. Quarterback Travis Wright (1,548 passing yards, 18 TDs), running back Dalyn Dawkins (419 rushing yards, 7 TDs) and wide receiver James Quick (657 receiving yards, 9 TDs) all return.
The victim of a stunning upset to Pearland (Texas) in last year's 4A semifinals, look for Katy to bounce back with a vengeance. Expect quarterback Brooks Haack to lead the charge. The 6-2 pocket passer threw 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions in an impressive junior season.
The St. Edward offensive line appears impenetrable, anchored by Tyler Orlosky, Sam Grant and Kyle Kalis, a four-star offensive tackle who changed his commitment from Ohio State to Michigan. That could spell a big season for feature back Dwayne Aaron (5-6, 165), who could be running through holes the size of hallways.
As Jonathan Gray goes, so goes Aledo. The lightning-quick running back has torched defenses for 6,021 yards and 109 touchdowns (a state record 59 last year) since 2009, propelling the Bearcats to 29 consecutive wins. He committed to Texas in April.
Pleasant Grove's offense should have no trouble controlling the line of scrimmage. Consensus five-star tackle Arik Armstead, labeled by some analysts as the top recruit in the nation, will pave the way for tailback Mark Jenkins, a senior who galloped for 2,739 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2010.
Known throughout Florida for its smashmouth approach, Cocoa will stick to the script in 2011. Running backs Tarean Folston and Antwan Lee form a potent two-headed attack and the defense returns six starters from a unit that allowed 10 touchdowns in 2010. The Tigers currently boast a 38-game winning streak.
St. Xavier has proved it can hang with traditional prep powers, knocking off Don Bosco and Prattville since 2008. This year provides additional opportunities. Led by returning all-state tailback Conor Hundley, the Bombers take on Trinity (Ky.), Colerain (Cincinnati) and St. Edward.
If Chaparral's upstart defense can match its offense, watch out. The tandem of Texas-bound quarterback Connor Brewer and four-star receiver Davonte Neal were prolific in 2010, connecting for 907 yards and 11 scores en route to an Arizona 5A title.
Even with the departure of veteran quarterback Ronnie Bell, the defending AAA champs should continue their winning ways. Both JaQuay and Quinteze Williams are poised for big seasons, the former an athletic Auburn-bound wideout and the latter a bull-rushing Florida-bound defensive end.
Glades Central lost to Cocoa 14-13 in last year's Florida 2A Final, a heartbreaking defeat after outgaining the Tigers 298-153. Glades' road to redemption should also be defensive-minded. Dominique Gibson heads a trio of Division-I caliber linebackers.
The class of the Western Pennsylvania recruiting hotbed, Central Catholic is dangerous on both sides of the ball. Two future Maryland Terrapins, quarterback Perry Hills and defensive back Anthony Nixon, pose matchup problems, while Darren Sproles-like running back Damion Jones-Moore (5-6, 171) seeks his third consecutive 1,000-yard campaign.
After winning back-to-back Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships, Good Counsel enters 2011 with a target on its back. That doesn't mean it can be stopped. The Falcons have outscored opponents 853-268 since 2008, and possess three of the nation's top athletes in receivers Stefon Diggs and Wes Brown and cornerback Kendall Fuller.
The Ferguson brothers lead this year's Butler team, and the Bulldogs will go as far as they take them. Junior quarterback Riley threw for 2,624 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2010 and older brother Zach served as his top wideout, reeling in a team-high 41 receptions. The siblings also receive help from Peter Kalambayi, a four-star outside linebacker.