With the first practices of the 2007 high school football season less than a week away, the Web site sixmanfootball.com issued its preseason rankings Monday.

The reigning Division I state champion Richland Springs Coyotes find themselves in the exact position they started and finished last season — at No. 1.

Richland Springs returns five offensive and five defensive starters — including the state’s record-setting Most Valuable Player, spread back Tyler Ethridge — from last year’s 14-0 team that knocked off Rule, 78-58, in the state championship game at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium. Rule (12-1) comes in at No. 2 in both the Division I and overall rankings.

The Coyotes will begin defense of their state title on Saturday, Sept. 1 as they host fifth-ranked Happy (10-2) in the 7 p.m. finale of the second annual Richland Springs Kickoff Classic.

Calvert (11-2) and Trinidad (10-2) are ranked third and fourth in Division I, respectively, while the 6-10 rankings went to Rankin (8-2), Meadow (13-1), Blum (13-1), Valley (6-5) and Robert Lee (8-3).

The top-ranked team in Division II is Vernon Northside (14-1), which comes in at No. 8 overall. Northside won the first-ever Division II state championship game a year ago.

The May Tigers are the only other area team ranked in the preseason Top 20, coming in at No. 16 in Division I and 20th overall. The Tigers, who will be led by spread back Nathan Howard, are coming off a 10-1 season that included the District 13, Division I championship. May was upended in its first playoff game by Richland Springs.

Fellow District 13 rivals Santa Anna (8-3) and Blanket (4-6) are ranked 30th and 36th, respectively, overall. In Division I, the Mountaineers are 23rd and the Tigers are 26th.

Santa Anna will be looking to make its third straight postseason trip, but will have to overcome the loss of spread back Ben McIver, who graduated after amassing over 4,000 yards of total offense last season.

Blanket won a district championship in 2005, but missed the postseason last year and is eyeing a return. The Tigers welcome back four starters on each side of the ball, including running back Neil Dove.

The Brookesmith Mustangs, who ended a near decade-long playoff drought last fall, are tabbed 33rd in Division I and 48th overall. Brookesmith (7-4) will basically be starting from scratch this season with 10 lettermen lost to graduation and only two returning. Bryn Allgood is expected to be one of the Mustangs featured offensively.

Zephyr, which claimed the District 14, Division II championship a year ago, is ranked 56th overall and 19th in Division II. The Bulldogs (8-4) will be under the direction of new head coach Landon Buffe, who welcomes back four starters on each side of the ball.

Rankings for other area teams include Gustine (12-2) at No. 25 overall and No. 7 in Division II; Rochelle (7-3) at No. 54 overall and No. 36 in Division I; Rising Star (3-7) at No. 76 overall and No. 46 in Division I; Panther Creek (4-6) at No. 80 overall and No. 48 in Division I; Mullin (5-5) at No. 91 overall and No. 38 in Division II; and Sidney (2-8) at No. 97 overall and No. 42 in Division II.