The big yellow school buses are once again greeting us as we drive to work in the mornings, with backpack-toting munchkins standing by their mailboxes waiting for their ride to school. The fall clothing sale fliers slip out of our Sunday newspapers; it's time to start thinking about sweaters and boots.
That means it's also the most wonderful time of the year for football fans.
From pee wee leagues to the pros, there's something in the air. Uniforms are unleashed from cardboard boxes and cleats commandeered from closets. Coaches are pulling out their playbooks and whistles; parents are stocking up on stain-fighter.
Area high school squads have spent the last few weeks of the summer training tirelessly, some from the early hours of the morning, others until the sun set on the dusty gridiron. They're concentrating not only on X's and O's but also chemistry and camaraderie, and this Friday night it all starts paying off.
Excitement is bubbling at schools around the region; the weeks just seem to fly by in the fall. Marching bands are tuning their instruments, preparing fight songs and half-time shows, cheerleaders perfecting their routines, referees checking their schedules, boosters warming up the popcorn makers, and water boys filling their coolers, all in preparation for opening night.
For Penn State fans, folding tables and fryers are coming out of storage while favorite tailgate recipes, splattered with buffalo and barbecue sauces are back on kitchen counters, ready to be used for this weekend's smorgasbords.
Bleached t-shirts are waiting on the shelves as Beaver Stadium prepares to host its famous fall White-Out's. The stadium crew is painting end zones and preparing souvenir stands for the hundred-thousand-plus Nittany Lion faithful coming to Happy Valley this weekend.
Pittsburgh Steelers fans have another week to wait before the Roethlisberger-less Black and Gold kick off their campaign, but pre-season games have wet our appetite for the new NFL season. The commercial says it all: right now everyone is undefeated, and anything can happen.
Regardless of pundit predictions, any team can beat any other on any given Sunday - that's why they play the game, and that's why we love it. Whether your heart is with Big Ben, Brett, or Brady, you can hope for the best.
The NFL may be America's new favorite pastime, and with the incredible size, strength and ability of today's pro football stars, it's easy to forget most were once Pee Wee league players, with Mom's who wiped their bloody noses and bandaged their skinned-up knees. They were high school stars, running onto their hometown fields under the Friday night lights.
The vast majority of football players won't even get close to the NFL. They play for their friends and their family and for fun. They work hard, and they work together for their coaches, their schools, and for pride.
They're the boys of fall it would make a great Kenny Chesney song.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.