It's that time of the year again, when the schoolboys lace up their boots and step out on the field to challenge for BG T&T Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) supremacy across the five Zones--North, South, East, Central, and Tobago.
St Anthony's College recorded a perfect season last year, winning all their matches as they swept both the BG T&T "Big Five" and Coca Cola InterCol titles, as well as the North League and InterCol titles.
But as is usual with schools football, much can change in a year, and it leaves, in every Zone but Central, much difficulty in making predictions as to who will triumph this year.
Today, action will begin with double headers in each of the Trinidad Zones, while the start of the Tobago Zone is delayed until September 15.
Most North teams have stated that they are rebuilding. St Anthony's have lost nine starters, said coach Nigel Grosvenor. Yet the "Tigers" have retained some talent, with striker Adrian Millette and clever winger Kiel Pierre, along with some defensive support.
East Mucurapo Secondary have retained their core squad from last year and should prove dangerous under Selris Figaro and Ian Clauzel, themselves former skillful T&T attackers. Forward Aaqil Campbell will lead the team in attack and with captain's armband, but their defensive end may prove crucial.
Debutants Diego Martin North Secondary are hoping to make a splash in the new season, but Fatima College and Queen's Royal College (QRC) will also make the Zone fascinating. Both teams have lost players to foreign scholarships, and QRC will blood a new defence. But T&T under 17 captain Brendon Creed will stand in Fatima's midfield, while for QRC, striker Akiel Morris and Makesi Lewis will add some attacking power.
St Mary's College have lost their goalkeeper, but retained captain Kyle Beggs in defence and Akhil Noel up front. Trinity College struggled last year, and leave questions to be answered with a mostly new team.
If history and optimism levels are anything to go by, the winners of the East Zone will come from this group—defending champions El Dorado East Secondary, 2010 winners St Augustine Secondary and feisty Arima North Secondary.
San Juan Secondary, according to coach Keith Jeffrey, have lost the bulk of last year's squad, and have faced big obstacles in getting players together to prepare for this season. They are hoping to take full advantage of the draw to get much needed practice in.
Trinity College East and Toco Secondary have struggled in past years to consistently compete with the bigger names, while newcomers El Dorado West Secondary add an unknown dimension to the East. But their rivalry with their eastern neighbours, the "Blue Thunder", should prove interesting.
St Augustine are banking on the T&T Under-17 trio of wingers Akeem Garcia and Aikim Andrew, and Shannon Gabriel at right back, and have had a good pre-season run. "El Do" East have a "sturdy" squad, according to veteran coach Trevor Spicer. They have big losses from last year, but have kept dangerous striker Shaquille Bertrand, captain Keylon Hernandez in midfield and goalkeeper Akeem Lucas.
And Arima are quietly confident of their chances with a young team built around talented playmaker Marcus Gomez, who led them to last year's InterCol final. But they will have to prove coach Peter Lewis right that they're "the best team we've had in years".
Carapichaima East Secondary are expected to dominate Central once again. Their squad has been steady over the past few years, meaning they may have a number of new faces this year. But it is not likely to change their control of the Zone, with teams like Presentation College Chaguanas, Gasparillo Secondary and Couva West Secondary all reporting big losses to their starting squads.
It shows in that none of these teams have listed winning the zone among their ambitions this year. Gasparillo coach Everol Joseph is hoping his team can play well enough to stay up in the Zone, while Curtis James (Presentation) wants a top-three position, and Couva's Keith Kirton is hoping to build a team with a view to 2013.
Shiva Boys Hindu College wrested the South Zone from the clutches of perennial winners and arch-rivals Naparima College and Presentation College San Fernando, under coach Dexter Francis of "Strike Squad" fame, and will be hoping to repeat. They have lost a couple of key players, but have T&T Under-20 goalie Kwesi Weston, as well as striker Nathaniel Garcia at their service.
Naparima, always South Zone contenders, will this year have Brazil-born, former W Connection midfielder Jose Seabra as head coach. Seabra has replaced Leonson Lewis, and will be keen to bring the team success this year despite the loss of several accomplished players. Adan Noel is also in doubt as "Naps" captain, with T&T Under-20 duty looming.
"Pres" Sando are the third of the three expected to challenge for zonal honours, and again the losses have hit them. But Shaquille Henry, last year's leading goalscorer, will return. And their entire defence, including goalkeeper, is also intact.
The big three will contend with Dexter Cyrus' St Benedict's College, Pleasantville, Princes Town and returning Moruga Secondary.
St Benedict's, a.k.a. the "La Romaine Lions", are set to field a youthful team, including Yaseu Rougier, the nephew of former T&T player Anthony Rougier. The St Benedict's wagon fell apart last year, and manager Nolan Bernard feels there's no place for his team to go but up.
Moruga's mission is to gain experience, after losing some key players after the battle for the South Senior Division title.
"P'ville are hoping for teamwork over stardom, with a young team studded with a few experienced names.
And Princes Town, without an abundance of flair, are hoping their team will get better as the season progresses.
Scarborough Secondary and Signal Hill Secondary have led the rush for Tobago Zone glory over the years, with Mason Hall joining in in recent times. Although little is known about 2011 Tobago winners Scarborough and their arch-rivals Signal Hill, Mason Hall are positive about their chances.
Mason Hall have a young squad, the core of which helped them win the Tobago Under-14 final a few years back.
The other schools in the zone are Roxborough Secondary and Speyside Secondary.
The Tobago teams will have to wait until next week to start their battle due to scheduling and venue issues.
Couva West Sec vs Gasparillo Sec, Ato Boldon Stadium, 3 p.m.
Carapichaima East Sec vs Tabaquite Sec, Ato Boldon Stadium, 5 p.m.
St Augustine Sec vs Arima North Sec, Larry Gomes Stadium, 3 p.m.
El Dorado East Sec vs San Juan North Sec, Larry Gomes Stadium 5 p.m.
East Mucurapo Sec vs Fatima College, Hasely Crawford Stadium, 3 p.m.
St Anthony's College vs QRC, Hasely Crawford Stadium, 5 p.m.
Shiva Boys vs Pleasantville Sec, Manny Ramjohn Stadium, 3 p.m.
Naparima College vs Presentation Sando, Manny Ramjohn Stadium, 5 p.m.