SIOUX CITY | It has come to signal the start of a new football season. Two of Sioux City's best square off in a matchup that means as much or more to two proud fan bases even if the end result isn't likely to determine a playoff spot.
Friday night East hosts Bishop Heelan at Olsen Stadium to open the 2017 season. This is the 80th meeting between the two rivals with Heelan having won five of the last six meetings, including a 23-7 victory at Memorial Field a year ago.
However, this has a different feel to it as both teams are coming off seasons where they failed to reach the playoffs and are looking to remedy that.
Heelan, which went 6-3 last year, will be led by 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior Saybein Clark. The North Dakota State verbal commit was held to 75 yards on 22 carries a year ago.
"All year long everyone is going to key on Saybein because is one of the best 3A players in the state," Heelan Coach Jerry Steffen said. "We have many other weapons to help Saybein out this year."
Clark ran for 985 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago, but with a 1,000-yard season could accumulate 4,000 rushing yards in his career.
East went 3-5 last season to break a string of seven straight playoff appearances under Coach Bob Goodvin.
"I thought our scrimmage against Le Mars (last) Friday night went really well, especially compared to last year," Goodvin said. "James Page is an awfully good player for us because he is so smart he can pick up both sides of the ball.
"I thought Skylar Skoglund played very well and another guy on the offensive line that played very well was Corey Choyce."
Goodvin has a new quarterback behind center in senior Steve Siebersma to go along with running back Skoglund, who rushed for 510 yards and six scores in 2016. Skoglund and Page, a three-year varsity starter at safety, will give Siebersma options in the backfield.
"James will play running back and that will give us a chance to move Skylar Skoglund around a little bit," Goodvin said. "It just allows us a chance to get guys the ball in space. That has been our focus this fall in finding out who our players are and let us be creative in getting them the ball."
D.J. Drent, Tyrel Vaughns, Kolby Gries and Josh Nutt give Siebersma quality targets in a passing game that has been a signature under Goodvin.
Heelan will have a new quarterback in junior Drew Olson, but the Crusaders will likely benefit from the return of Pat Grace as offensive coordinator.
"There will be some learning curves he will have to deal with, but he is an athlete and a good track and basketball guy," Steffen said. "We feel with the right coaching he can be a very valuable weapon for us running the ball and throwing the ball.
"With coach Pat Grace back that helps him tremendously having a quarterback coach that can improve his skills on that side of the ball."
Steffen believes the Crusaders have one of the best offensive lines they have fielded in years. Seniors Diego Samaniego and Brook Rector along with junior Tyson Strohbeen and sophomore Kobe Clayborne will play a big role in how far the team goes this season.
"The offensive line we feel is one of our best in the last three or four years with a lot of depth," said Steffen, who noted the quality backup at each position as well.
Like nearly every coach to open the season, Goodvin is ready to see his team go up against an opponent other than itself.
"We just need to play a game," he said. "We need to play a game I am just not sure if we are ready to play a game."