by D. Mark Mitchell

The Opelika varsity football team continues to prepare for the 2016-17 season. Coach Blackmon and staff are trying to prepare the players for the season and, at the same time, evaluate talent of the team members.
The Dawgs open the season against three non-region opponents.
The opener is Aug. 19 in the friendly confines of Bulldog Stadium against Carver of Columbus, Ga.
The following Friday, Aug. 26, OHS travels to Duck Samford Stadium to play arch rival Auburn High School at 7 p.m. in another non-region game. The last non-region game before regional play begins will be Sept. 1 at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl against the Carver Wolverines.
The Bulldogs then play two straight region games at Bulldog Stadium,  Benjamin Russell Sept. 8 and Chilton County Sept.15. The Central Red Devils travels to Opelika for the last non-region game of the season Sept. 23.
After that, OHS will play four region games in a row. They travel to Helena Sept. 30 and host Chelsea Oct. 17. The last two regular season games are on the road, Wetumpka  on Oct. 14 and Pelham, Oct. 21.
The Dawgs have the final week of the regular season off and will hopefully rest up for the play-offs.
Opelika plays three teams that are new to the schedule, Carver of Columbus, Helena and Wetumpka. Helena and Wetumpka are new region teams.
Opelika will continue to play traditional rivals Central and Auburn, despite both now being Class 7A schools. Coach Blackmon and the administration continue to try and schedule Smiths Station, now a 7A school also, but the Panthers refuse to sign a contract with OHS.
One might think Opelika and Benjamin Russell are the two favorites to win the region,  and certainly playing them at home will help the inexperienced Bulldogs. But, predictions are not really worth anything. The teams will battle on the field to determine the region champions.
Opelika fans can purchase tickets to all home football games at Bubba’s Medicine Shop and Victory Designs, the week of the game, Monday through Friday. You can also purchase tickets at Bulldog Stadium starting at 5:30 p.m. on game nights at the ticket office .
The Opelika All-Sports Booster Club will hold their annual Appreciation Dinner on Aug. 11, at Bulldog Cafe inside Opelika High School starting at 6:30 p.m. All corporate sponsors are invited.
Kitchen 3810 is catering the meal. The head coaches of all the OHS sports at Opelika will speak along with the special guest speaker.
The tradition continues: all Opelika High football games can be heard on WKKR 97.7 Kicker FM. Pre-game starts at 6:30 p.m. with kickoff at 7 p.m.
Jeff Sasser and former coach Larry Gore will join me to bring you the best coverage possible.
You can also listen online at All games will be broadcasted.
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the  A-O Sports Council.