VAN WADE — Nothing quite like those Friday Night Lights

Published 12:24 am Wednesday, July 27, 2022

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Surprise. It’s been hot and steamy, just like we’ve always liked it as high school football teams and their coaches have been braving the heat during summer workouts.

However, this coming Monday everything will seem closer to real as the first official day of practice kicks off.

I’m fortunate that this is my 30th straight go-around covering Orange County football and, hopefully, it won’t be a strange one like the last couple of seasons when everyone was not only dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic but evacuating from storms that impacted so many schedules and practices.

All of the schools I visited have done a tremendous job thus far in making sure everything is safe and sound for the upcoming season, just like they did last season.

Last year was certainly better, following just 50 percent capacity in stadiums in 2020 due to COVID, when no band or drill teams could go on the road to perform. Last season was practically business-as-usual as stadiums were rocking to capacity.

Each year has been full of memories of great athletes, top-notch teams and hard-working coaches.

I’ve had a chance to cover a slew of All-Staters every year and am curious which athletes will land in that category this time around.

I have been lucky over the years to cover Class 4A Division II State Championships games with the West Orange-Stark Mustangs bringing home two of the big trophies and two runnerup trophies.

I can’t wait to see what first-year head coach Hiawatha Hickman and the Mustangs do in this year’s campaign. Legendary coach Cornel Thompson hung up his whistle after a superb run for sure.

Coach Hickman and staff have certainly got a lot of enthusiasm going. The workouts they have had over the summer were amazing. I look forward to that transferring onto the field.

Several big changes happened last season as Little Cypress-Mauriceville had a new head coach in Eric Peevey, while Bridge City had a new skipper in Cody McGuire.

What did Peevey and the Bears do? Made a trip to the fourth round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997. Meanwhile Bridge City went from one win in 2020 to four in 2021.

Both coaches brought a slew of enthusiasm as they are ready to lead their new charges.

Also excited is long-time Orangefield coach Josh Smalley. The Bobcats always prove their worth in Class 4A, but they are even more excited now with their drop back down to the Class 3A level. One thing we can always count on, the Bobcats will “bring it.”

I’ll always remember the old faces over the years but I’m anticipating new faces are going to stand out.

Aug. 26, 2022 is the start of the season. Most folks have that date marked on their calendars all year. However, I start getting “giddy” on Aug. 1, when the practices start up and I get really excited by the end of the first week of practice, that’s when the pads come on and you get see kids knock each other around, all in good sport, of course.

When a game kicks off in Southeast Texas on a Friday night, it gives communities an extreme rush, along with players, coaches, band members, drill teams, cheerleaders and parents.

Traditions last a lifetime around our tight-knit area.

Fans wrap themselves around the local boys and what they accomplish on the gridiron.

High school stadiums are where the past, future and present meet and contrast and just have a super time.

Of course, in Texas, football is much more than a game, it’s in our culture. It is an atmosphere like no other.

It’s about sounds of marching bands, cheerleaders yelling out or drill teams dancing to the oldies.

There is also the smell of hot dogs, turkey legs and popcorn that simply can’t be topped.

We’re all going to find out real soon which teams move on to the postseason in November; let’s all hope that anyway.

I can’t wait and look forward to another memorable football season.

Best of luck to all of our local kids making the tackles and touchdowns, blowing horns and dancing and yelling between the hash marks all season long.

Van Wade is the Orange Leader sports editor. He can be reached at