Basketball practice begins today statewide for high school teams.
For a change, that's not the biggest story this time of the year in McDowell County's athletic world. Not even close.
The Titans (8-3) are part of the NCHSAA football playoffs for the first time since 2003 and travel to Charlotte Olympic (6-4) on Friday for a first-round game in 4-AA.
"We're about to take these boys to the big city," McDowell coach Carson Gowan joked.
"I'm so proud of these kids," he continued.
"They've worked extremely hard throughout the offseason and now the season. Our assistant coaches have done an outstanding job. It's been really good for this community to have a football team they can get behind again. A big plus."
The Titans concluded the regular season with Friday's 48-20 win at North Wilkes.
In that game, McDowell not only guaranteed its best season since 1995, but set school records for single-season points (371) and yardage (3,979).
Individually, senior quarterback Grant Robinson threw his 25th career touchdown (also a school record), and the Titans left the community of Hays with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers (Trey Anderson and Malique O'Neil) for the first time in their history.
Jared Helms scored four touchdowns on a reception, run, fumble return and punt return.
"It's a good feeling to know we've put McDowell football back on the map," Helms said.
"You can really tell a difference. Everywhere we go, people are congratulating us and asking about the team. It feels good to be here in the playoffs."
Robinson said student turnout at games has been so great that the group has adopted a nickname, "The Blue Crew."
"A lot of hard work has gone into this season," Robinson said.
"Now we have a great opportunity. It's an opportunity that a team hasn't had here in a long time."
Gowan's son, John, is a former All-Mountain Athletic Conference linebacker who was averaging 7.1 tackles per game before breaking an arm on Oct. 12 against Reynolds.
John Gowan said he still hopes to kick extra points and field goals on Friday.
"To be still playing in November means so much to all of us," John Gowan said.
"Now we just have to keep our eyes on the prize. It's a new season for everyone in the playoffs. It's a great feeling to know that we accomplished this, but we want to keep it going."
Carson Gowan said Olympic reminds him a lot of Asheville High. Trojans defensive end Robert Dinkins has committed to North Carolina.
The Titans grabbed their first playoff berth in nine years as a wild card out of the MAC's 4-A division.
"For ours kids and for our community, just getting a chance to play another game is incredible," Carson Gowan said.
"But at the same time, we've got to treat it just like any other game. We're going to go to Olympic, play hard and see what happens."