Football seasons that follow the UIL’s biennial realignment usually provide a sense of change, but this year several local programs are experiencing fresh starts in a variety of ways. Along with the customary new districts, some teams were sent to a new classification, others are breaking in a new head coach and a couple more will be playing in a new stadium this fall.

The countdown to kickoff is just under four weeks away as the 2008 high football season officially gets under way Monday with the start of two-a-days. So what better time to examine what the coming season could offer?

Four teams from the Bulletin’s coverage area - including three inside Brown County - enter the season as legitimate state championship contenders. The Brownwood Lions and Early Longhorns both received No. 3 state rankings in their respective classifications by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine, while the Zephyr Bulldogs and Richland Springs Coyotes were both tabbed No. 4 in the state in their divisions by sixmanfootball.com.

The Bangs Dragons are one of four local programs welcoming a new coach for the coming season. Chuck Lipsey is taking over for Eddie Pettit as he attempts to get the Dragons back to the postseason for the first time since 2005.

Other new coaches include Brock Ramsey at Santa Anna, Shane Mallory at Rising Star and the Victory Life Academy Warriors will begin their second season of football with Joe Branham at the helm.

While construction is nearing the final stages on Early’s new stadium, the Longhorns won’t be the only team with a different home this season. The Blanket Tigers also have a new stadium on campus which will host the Tigers’ scrimmage against Star on Aug. 22 and the season opener against Panther Creek on Aug. 29. Early’s first home game at its new stadium is scheduled for Sept. 12 against Clyde.

The most highly anticipated development to come out of February’s biennial realignment, however, is Brownwood’s return to the Class 3A ranks for the first time since 1979. The Lions’ official return to Class 3A football comes Aug. 30 when Brownwood tangles with Burnet in San Antonio’s Alamodome as part of the annual Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Kickoff Classic.

Though the Lions return only 12 lettermen from last year’s squad - including six offensive and two defensive starters - Brownwood is still fielding one of its most talented teams. Three players have already committed to NCAA Division I universities - quarterback Casey Pachall (TCU), defensive back Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) and offensive tackle Stavion Lowe (LSU) - and more could follow.

The Lions will meet at 6:30 a.m. Monday to pick up equipment, then practice begins at 8 a.m. Key dates for the Lions in the preseason include Friday’s first day to practice in full pads, the Aug. 16 scrimmage at Midway and the Aug. 22 home scrimmage against San Angelo Central.

After competing in what was considered by many the toughest 4A district in the state last season - with Copperas Cove, Waco High, Killeen, Midway and University - the Lions drew another tough hand as they moved to what is now being touted as the most difficult 3A district in the state.

Brownwood will compete in 2-3A with Abilene Wylie, Breckenridge, Graham, Snyder and Sweetwater. The Lions’ five district foes combined for a 43-20 record last season and four of the teams - all but Breckenridge - reached the playoffs, including two - Wylie and Snyder - that advanced to the state semifinals. Graham and Sweetwater reached the area round of the playoffs a year ago.

In Early, the Longhorns are hoping to finally clear the final hurdle and compete for a state championship. Early is coming off its second appearance in the Class 2A, Division I state semifinals in the last three seasons, and the Longhorns are considered by some prognosticators to be the best team in Region I this season.

The Longhorns - who welcome back 14 lettermen, including five offensive and four defensive starters - will get a stern test right out of the gate as they visit Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s preseason No. 1 Cisco. The Loboes, who also are in Region I, were state semifinalists themselves a year ago in Division II, finishing with a 14-1 record.

Prior to their season opener, the Longhorns will hold an intrasquad scrimmage at Early Stadium at 10 a.m. Saturday, scrimmage Lamesa at Sweetwater on Aug. 16, then head to Llano for a scrimmage on Aug. 22.

In Bangs, Lipsey inherits 14 lettermen, including four offensive and five defensive starters, from a 5-5 team. The Dragons will shift to the power spread offense this season and a run a base 3-4 defense.

Bangs’ new district should be a bit easier as Wall, Ballinger, Jim Ned and Grape Creek are no longer on the schedule. The Dragons find themselves in District 8-2A along with Early, Coleman, Comanche, Brady, Dublin and San Saba.

As for the smaller schools within Brown County, Blanket and May will keep their district rivalry alive as they are the only Division I six-man programs. Blanket and May will reside in District 10, along with Rising Star, Gustine, Gordon and Strawn. Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine has tabbed Strawn and Gordon as the two teams to beat in District 10.

Zephyr - which is coming off an 8-4, state semifinalist campaign - welcomes Brookesmith to the Division II ranks. The Bulldogs - who return four offensive starters, five defensive starters and 14 lettermen - are picked to win District 13, followed by Paint Rock, Lohn, Cherokee, Panther Creek and Brookesmith. Zephyr trails Woodson, Motley County and Highland in the preseason rankings.

Outside of Brown County, Goldthwaite remained in Class A, but moved from Region II to Region IV, where it will be a part of the new District 25-A. Joining the Eagles in the district will be Meridian, Bosqueville, Valley Mills, Evant and state power Chilton.

Richland Springs will attempt to capture a third straight state championship, and fourth in five years, despite losing a talented senior class that posted a 56-1 career record.

The Coyotes, who are ranked behind Calvert, Valley and Strawn in the preseason poll, are the favorites to win District 9, which also consists of Robert Lee, Eden, Santa Anna, Rochelle and Veribest.

The Bulletin also will add the Sidney Eagles to its coverage this season.

The Eagles, along Mullin, are members of Six-Man Division II’s District 14 with Jonesboro, Star and Cranfills Gap. Sidney comes into the season ranked No. 9 in the Division II preseason poll.