The calendar still says August, which means there's still great hope in the western part of the state that this is the year when Jenks and Tulsa Union will topple from the throne in Class 6A.
Edmond Santa Fe and Norman North, each led by blue-chip quarterbacks, head the list of west-siders trying to build programs to contend with the state's elite programs.
The last 17 state championship trophies are housed at Jenks and Union, and many teams have filled the role of Great West Hope. What makes this year's contenders different?
Edmond Santa Fe, No. 4 in The Oklahoman's preseason poll, has all the signs of a program that is built to last. But this year is what matters, and the Wolves have Oklahoma commitment Justice Hansen at quarterback.
He's a third-year starter who burst onto the scene two years ago with a scrimmage victory over Jenks — a scrimmage, yes, but it ignited hope from the start.
Coach Lance Manning is trying to build a program that can compete long-term, too.
“I truly believe that you have to stay on edge as far as what you're doing,” he said. “Whether it's your offseason, whether it's your in-season, whatever you're doing, I think you have to be willing to have your staff adapt and do new things.
“You have to stay on the cutting edge of what the better programs are doing to win a state championship. You can't be content and set in your ways.”
Norman North, which made its way to the state finals last year before losing to Jenks 55-20, has its own method.
Alabama commit David Cornwell joined the Timberwolves in the offseason, but the heart of their program-building plan begins with coach Wade Standley. The third-year coach is a disciple of current University of Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship, who molded Union into the program it has become.
“Coach Blankenship was such a huge mentor to me, and I learned so much from him that I'm implementing now at Norman North,” Standley said. “We spent six years building that program at Union before we ever beat Jenks, and the point when things began to change was when the focus became making ourselves better instead of worrying about another program.”
Mustang, which faced Union for the title in 2005, is focused on building its program with full community support — the way it's been done at Jenks and Union — by choosing not to build a second high school.
In fact, it was that “one town, one team” motto that drew coach Jeremy Dombek away from Edmond North to lead the Broncos.
“The first thing we're going to try to do at Mustang that we weren't able to do in Edmond was the total vertical alignment of the community,” Dombek said. “Even at the pre-middle school levels, we're trying to get involved with those programs so when they get to middle school or high school, they're somewhat familiar with your terminology and how you want to do things.
“I'm not shy about calling Coach (Allan) Trimble and Coach (Kirk) Fridrich at Jenks and Union to see what they've been doing to build their programs.”
Next year, only 14 teams will have to worry about Jenks and Union. The teams' dominance came to such a point that the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association stepped in to give the smaller half of Class 6A — to be known as Division II — its own version of hope, with a chance to compete for its own state title.
Division II will include the coaching duo that took Mustang to the finals in 2005 — Todd Dilbeck and Ty Prestidge, now at Choctaw — not to mention regular playoff teams Lawton, Midwest City and Stillwater.
But for one more season, there are 30 teams wondering what it will take to keep Jenks and Union off the champion's stage in 2013.
“I think it's about kids believing in your program,” Manning said. “They have to truly believe that they're working in that direction and they can go compete and beat one of those guys.”