This could be one of the most interesting seasons of boys' cross country in quite sometime.
It's actually a season that might take a few weeks to get a handle on as many teams are battling either numbers' issues or youth movements.
Some of the questions will start to be answered this week as teams crank up the regular season competition after months of logging long miles in the summer to prepare themselves for the rigors of the season.
Actually, many teams hit the course Saturday for the OHSAA Pre-Season Meet, which was held in Hebron at the National Trail Raceway, which is now the home the state championship meet.
The OVCCL meets get under way at a variety of sites this week and next and then it becomes full-fleged invitationals and Saturday meets.
The eyes of the coaches are set on October and into November if teams are fortunate enough to qualify for the state meet.
The first Saturday in October is the OVAC Championship Meet, which will once again be held at Meadowbrook High School in Byesville. After the OVCCL Championship, which will be held the following Saturday at Buckeye Local High School, the postseason gets under way with the district meet at Cambridge High School.
The top four teams and 16 individuals from that district will punch a ticket to the regional meet at Pickerington North High School. Those survivors will then head to the state meet.
Here's a capsule look at the teams:
BARNESVILLE - Veteran head coach Mark Brown is pretty high on his 2012 Shamrocks' boys squad.
The Shamrocks boast one of the area's premier runners in senior standout Brandon Stephens, who was an all-OVAC and all-district selection last season.
He'll be chased by senior standout Christopher Baker, who earned the same accolades last season. Sophomore Mason Moore returns after a strong freshman campaign in which he was all-conference as well.
Senior Abel Broomhall has been a steady veteran for the Shamrocks and is penciled in at the fourth spot. Sophomores Brandon Davidson, Michael Thomas and Tomothy Skinner.
"We had no seniors on the team last year and we feel we should be respectable his season and in the upper half of most meets," Brown said. "However, several of our runners didn't run much this summer because of jobs, so they'll need to get in shape quickly."
BELLAIRE - The Big Reds' boys cross country program has been one of the area's steadiest during the career of head coach Chris Arno.
As the veteran coach gets set to start his 17th season at the helm, the Big Reds have a few question marks ahead, but the excitement level never changes.
"We're very anxious to see how this team develops during the season," Arno said. "We're very young, but we have some dedicated runners who enjoy working hard and enjoy the sport of cross country. We really think we'll have some intersquad competition take place as the season moves forward."
The lone senior on the team is Vernon Trigg. The remainder of the six-person roster are sophomores and freshmen.
Sophomore Luc Messenger expects to be one of the top Big Reds' entrants this season. The other two sophomores are Wally Holmes and Jeff Simpson. Freshmen Josh Bumgardner and Tylar Eden comprise the remainder of the roster.
"With the youth of this team, we want to build confidence as we mature physically and mentally," Arno said. "We feel that we will be able to turn the corner with this group of runners. Obviously, the sooner, the better."
Gone from last year's team because of graduation are Timmy Martin and Taylor Kucera.
Arno is assisted by his wife, Ann.
BUCKEYE LOCAL - The Panthers could be a team to keep an eye on this season as the head coaching duo of Diane and Wayne McCracken welcome back a solid core of contributors from last season's team.
Senior Chayse Staten is the Panthers' leader. Senior B.J. Primovic is also back and is expected to have a strong season. Seniors Tyler Pasco and Joe Battilochi are also back.
The McCrackens are high on junior Zach Malesky. Other juniors looking to get into the mix are Ryan Lewton and Jarrett Roach, while sophomores Devin Pasco and Derek Starr are also on the squad and could crack the top five.
The lone graduation loss was Casey Wiltshire.
HARRISON CENTRAL - Numbers aren't an issue for the Huskies as 12 runners are out for the squad for Coach Scott Porter.
However, experience might be.
"It's going to be a process with our youth," Porter said. "We've got a couple of seniors leading us, but we're going to be sophomore and freshmen dominated. We'll probably take some lumps, but in the end, I think we'll compete hard and we'll learn as we go."
The Huskies will be led by seniors Robert Tipton and Sebastian Cruz. Sophomore Zac Whiteman is ticketed to be their third runner. His classmates, Kyle Custer and Dylan Bossell, are slated for the fourth and fifth spots.
The balance of the squad is comprised of senior Matt McMahon, junior Donald Shorb, sopomores Wayne Bagan and Addison Reed along with freshmen Rod Cowlans, Tristan Ferrell and Wesley Mitchell.
MARTINS FERRY - The Purple Riders have just two boys out for cross country again this season as head coach Chrissy Lewis begins another season at the helm.
Sophomore Theo Zoumpolidis is coming off a solid freshman season and Lewis expects him to be even better this season.
"He's put in a hard summer and is very excited to race," Lewis said. "He's got a great group of junior high boys to train with to get him ready."
Out for cross country for the first time is sophomore Alex Smith.
Lewis is being assisted by Joe Ellis.
RIVER - It takes five runners to be scored as a team in cross country. The Pilots have exactly five runners on the team as Jennifer Stephens begins her third season at the helm of the program.
The Pilots must find a way to replace the steady running of Brandon Price, who qualified for the Division III regional last fall.
The 2012 River squad features nary a senior, but three juniors will provide the leadership. Kole Smith is back after a strong 2011 campaign. Ethan Ritchie is out for cross country for the first time, while Ryan Ludolph returns to the program after taking his sophomore season off.
Sophomore Travis Goddard has had a strong summer of running and Stephens expects him to enjoy a fine campaign.
She's also high on frosh Hunter Richmond.
"The boys just have enough for a team, but I hope to maybe increase that number when school starts," Stephens said. "Overall, the boys' team has strong runners."
River opens the season Monday in an OVCCL meet at Martins Ferry.
ST. CLAIRSVILLE - Veteran Red Devils' head coach Tony Ciroli will have to be excused if he gets to the team's first meet this week and does a double take at the starting line.
It'll be the first time in six years he's not had anyone ready to race 3.1 miles named Thornburg at the line. Andy Thornburg snagged his diploma and he's now training for UNC-Asheville, while Alex Thornburg is embarking on his junior season at Loyola of Chicago.
However, don't feel too sorry for Ciroli who still has 10 runners out for the team and a cupboard far from bare.
"It should be an interesting season," Ciroli said. "I have five of the seven back who ran at the state meet and I feel we've got some guys ready to fill our graduation losses' vacancies."
Senior Drake Walker will ascend to the top spot for the Devils. He had a brilliant track season as the area's premier 800 meter runner.
Walker is one of four seniors on the squad. Joe Davies has been a solid contributor as has Brady Frakowski and Phillip Burydn the last several seasons.
Juniors Alex Timko, Alexander Trouten and Chris Baker will all be in the mix along with sophomores James Davenport and Chandler Kilburn.
Freshman Logan McCort is the lone ninth grader in the program.
Along with Thornburg, talented runner Cole Antolak also graduated.
ST. JOHN CENTRAL - The Irish program, which is one of the area's most successful, is in somewhat of a state of flux right now.
Head coach Jeremy Midei informed school officials that he would be resigning his post, but is still guiding the team, for the time being, because no replacement has been found.
The Irish - despite losing talented runners Ramon Nieves and Matt Thomas - figure to be highly competitive once again this season. A season ago, SJC claimed yet another OVAC Class 1A/2A title along with finishing second in both the district and regional to earn another trip to the state meet.
They boast one of the area's top runners in senior standout Corey Leasure, who was an individual state qualifier last season and finished sixth in the OVAC.
Junior Aaron Ebbert, senior Brennan Donahue, junior Garrett Holubeck form a solid second through fourth punch for the Green. Sophomore Sean Clemons, freshman Matt Donahue, senior Adam Carpenter and junior David Goclan make up the remainder of the roster.
SHADYSIDE - As Stu Rynkievich begins his career as the Tigers' head coach, he won't be fielding a full boys' team.
The Tigers have just three male runners out for the team and all of them are freshmen.
"One of my main goals coming into the season, as the new coach, is to find enough boys to compete as a team," Rynkievich said. "It's been quite a few years since Shadyside had a team score on the boys' side, so it will be a challenge."
The three freshmen, who are out for the squad are Justin Bowers, Shane Johnson and Travis Fulton.
"We have three competitive freshmen, who've worked very hard," Rynkievich said. "I'm determined, though, to find two other boys and be a running threat in the very near future."
UNION LOCAL - Head coach Larry Falbo begins his second season at the helm with a solid seven runners out for the team, including a strong core of younger runners.
"We are going to rely heavily on our underclassmen this year," Falbo said. "I am confident that they will continue to improve and work hard."
Junior Caleb Hayes is expected to lead the Jets in most meets. Senior Ben Abboud will be on the second runner. The balance of the squad, however, is comprised of sophomores and freshmen.
Freshman Justin Bolt and sophomore Joseph Glenn are pegged as the third and fourth runners. Sophomore Griffin Roberts is the fifth runner, while freshman Caleb Stoller and sophomore John Fitzgerald are the sixth and seventh runners.
Falbo is once again being assisted by Daniel and Dustin Hess.