The high school football season starts later in Connecticut than it does in the five other New England states, but the wait is almost over.
Things kick off this week, and here are 10 teams to keep an eye on as the 2012 season unfolds (2011 record in parenthesis):
XAVIER (13-0 ): Quarterback Pat D'Amato is among the 19 seniors who graduated from last year's team, which won its second consecutive Class LL championship The Falcons, who own a 26-game winning streak, will build around Boston College-bound quarterback Tim Boyle and are considered by many to be the best team in the state. Opener: at Notre Dame-West Haven on Friday.
STAPLES (11-1): There's plenty of star power here. The defending FCIAC champion returns quarterback Jack Massie (1,617 yards passing and 14 TDs last season), running back Joey Zelkowitz (1,019 yards rushing) and linebacker Kevin Kearney, who averaged a team-high 13.1 tackles per game last season. Opener: St. Joseph-Trumbull on Friday.
HAND (13-0): The Tigers, last year's Class L champion, lost some key pieces, but should be stingy on defense with linebacker Matt Walsh and defensive end Peter Gerson. Walsh will play fullback at Connecticut, and Gerson is headed to Yale. Opener: Amity-Woodbridge on Friday.
ANSONIA (14-0): The Chargers, who won the Class M championship last season, are competing in Class S this year. Junior Arkeel Newsome set the state's single-season rushing record (3,763 yards) in 2011, when he scored 58 touchdowns. Opener: at Torrington on Friday.
WINDSOR (11-1): May be the team to beat in the Central Connecticut Conference. Quarterback Quinn Fleeting passed for 2,802 yards and 30 TDs last season, and added 522 yards and four TDs on the ground. He'll have a good target in Ryheime Moore, who had 911 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. Opener: at Wethersfield on Friday.
GREENWICH (8-2): The Cardinals, who lost to Staples in the FCIAC final last year, have 37 seniors on their roster and will be attempting to make the Class LL playoffs for the first time since 2007. Liam O'Neil is among the top quarterbacks in the FCIAC. Opener: at Ridgefield on Friday.
HILLHOUSE (7-3): The Academics are loaded at the skill positions. Junior running back Harold Cooper averaged 13.6 yards per carry last season, when he gained 1,835 yards on 134 attempts. He's complemented by quarterback Je'Vaughn Moore, who is expected to continue his career at the college level. Opener: at Foran-Milford Thursday.
LEDYARD (11-2): Size on the defensive line is a concern, but the Colonels appear to be fine everywhere else. Thirteen starters return, including quarterback John Rainey. Opener: Waterford on Thursday.
HOLY CROSS (12-1): Won the Class S title last year, and figures to battle Ansonia for the top spot in the NVL this season. Adrian Brown, who ran for 1,013 yards in 2011, and Isaiah Wright, last year's top receiver, are back. Opener: Watertown on Friday.
BERLIN (10-2): The Redcoats lost to Ansonia in the Class M semifinals last season, and the majority of that team is back. The offensive line, which features guard Chris Meucci (6-0, 240 pounds) and tackle Mitch Blanchette (6-3, 285), looks like the team's strength. Opener: at East Catholic-Manchester on Saturday.
Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and has been covering high school sports throughout New England since 1992.