Traveling out of state to start the high school football season is a daunting task no matter how many times your program has done it.
When you're scheduled to be the headlining game at an out-of-state event, the pressure only intensifies.
For Bellevue (Wash.) High - which will face Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian in at the Mission Viejo Classic presented by Hercules Sports Management - beginning the season with its bags packed is getting to be the norm.
"Well, we have done [Concord (Calif.)] De La Salle, [Long Beach (Calif.)] Poly, and Katy [(Texas) High] already," Butch Goncharoff, head coach at Bellevue, said. "So this is something somewhat familiar to us."
According to Goncharoff, the No. 36 team in the RivalsHigh 100 will be ready for the challenge.
It better be: The matchup is the RivalsHigh Game of the Week.
"We learned when we played Poly that we can not simulate the speed of those Southern California teams in practice," he said. "But we learned that they can not simulate what we do either. So we really have been focusing more on us than on them."
The Wing-T offense shell game that Bellevue runs to perfection has helped the team earn its national reputation.
Its opponent, the No. 35-ranked Oaks Christian team, has echoed those sentiments.
"If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't," Bill Reddell, the head coach for Oaks Christian, said about the matchup. "They run that Delaware Wing-T and it is hard to duplicate. I mean we have our kids trying to run it, and we have had a long enough time to prepare, but we can not duplicate that and we won't see it again this season."
The not-so-secret weapon for Bellevue is becoming more of an advantage.
"Everyone wants to run the spread now," Goncharoff said. "So the older this offense gets, the better it is for us."
The veteran coach thinks that the system, while it isn't something his players see when they watch college or pro football, keeps them interested.
"It is actually fun for them," he said. "Our linemen love it. They get to earhole defenders so much and get to run and be active. Plus we win."
The winning track record is something that has even surprised Goncharoff.
"I have a left tackle that is 6-foot-5, 280-pounds," he said. "And I have a right guard that is about 5-foot-7 and 175-pounds, so we don't exactly have the guys to just line up and zone block. Running this style has been successful. It has kept us in some games and it has certainly won us some."
Bellevue will enter the game knowing that it is losing the eyeball test.
"If we were going to have a draft before the game, you would take a lot of their guys before most of ours," Goncharoff said. "We can't worry about what others think of us."
That is a refrain that Reddell and the Oaks program is very familiar with.
The team has been ridiculed by other coaches and media in the Southern California area for playing what many perceived to be a weak schedule.
That was until the team upped its league and continued to win.
"Look, we are 136-14 in the last 10 years," Reddell said. "We have sent a bunch of kids to college, three from my 2006 team are in the NFL, I don't know why they want to talk about us like we don't play good football. We moved up our league and won. They will find something to pick on us about.
"I think that if some of those coaches would focus more on their team and less on Oaks Christian we would have some better competition, and you can quote me on that."
While the contrast of offensive styles could not be more different, the perceived lack of respect is not the only thing the teams will share.
Both enter this game with a solid core of up-and-coming players.
Bellevue started 12 sophomores on its state title-winning team last year.
Oaks Christian will have 12 sophomores on its varsity roster and seeing action this season.
"I have a lot of talented kids," Reddell said. "But they are kids. Maybe half of them could end up being Division I talents, but we need to see how they will respond."
Some of the young players for Bellevue will also be asked to pick up the load. The team's leading rusher from a year ago, Latrell Dukes, has been removed from the team.
"It was a coaching decision, let's leave it at that," Goncharoff said of the dismissal. "He is not in trouble with the law or anything like that, he is a good kid, but he needs to mature and get some things in order like most teenagers; I am too old to be dealing with this kind of stuff."
And while the Wolverines generally do not rely on the names on the back of the jersey, even Goncharoff concedes this could hurt his football team.
"It makes us much smaller in the backfield," he said. "We will have to throw the ball a little better I think."
The ability to pass the ball could be the strength of Oaks - but the worry that Bellevue could use the pass is also the worry of the Lions.
"It is a weapon of theirs for sure," Reddell said. "They are actually very effective in the shotgun and combining that with the run is tough.
"We have to figure that the higher scoring the game is, the better it is for us. If it is low scoring, that plays into their hands. If we aren't explosive, it isn't good for us at all."
The key to the Oaks offensive attack will be its junior transfer quarterback, Lucas Falk.
"He is a transfer from Utah," Reddell said. "He is big, really big, and has a good arm. If he can settle in and get the ball to the playmakers we will be in a good spot.
"Both teams are ranked and it should be a great game."
No. 35 Oaks Christian v No. 36 Bellevue
When: Saturday, Sept. 3, 8:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: First-ever meeting
Rankings: Bellevue (0-0), No. 1 in Washington
Oaks Christian (0-0), No. 5 in California
Bellevue wins if: It controls the clock and wears down the defense. This is the formula for success of any team that enters the competition on the short end of the talent stick. Bellevue will have to have success on the ground to keep the chains moving and not have three-and-outs that allow Oaks to get back onto the field. Losing its top back is bad news, but it is not the end of the world for a team that routinely does more with less.
Oaks Christian wins if: It eliminates mistakes. Giving Bellevue a short field - or points on defense and special teams - has to be avoided. If the Oaks offense can produce four scoring drives, it could be too much to ask a young Bellevue team to match. It must eliminate quick and easy scoring opportunities for Bellevue.
Prediction: Both coaches are very aware of the strengths and weaknesses of not only their own team but also the opposition. This could be a straight strength vs. speed game that could be decided by which team imposes its will early. Bellevue is at an immediate disadvantage by being on the road. Oaks has the talent to make this a runaway game if its defense plays disciplined. It is a good thing for Oaks that this game is the opener and not midseason, when it would have only a regular week to prepare for the Wing-T. - Oaks Christian 31, Bellevue 17.
Game of the Week Predictions: 1-1 (10-5 in '10, '09, and '08)