The end of the school year annually brings the initial burst of excitement from area football programs, and despite Swine Flu warnings, two of three city schools started spring ball last week. With Econ and North cranking it up, albeit later than usual due to the dreaded TAKS testing, itís time to take the first look at what to expect from the local grid squads in 2009.

The city has some real strengths heading into the latest campaign, and first glance reveals that all three units will probably be in the running for a playoff spot, after Northís back-to-back appearances in Ď07 and Ď08.

Wide receiver and linebacker are the positions with the most returning talent, with the defensive line contingent close behind. There seems to be a dearth of proven runners, and a bunch of open slots for offensive linemen.

At receiver, look for Steve Trevino to follow up his outstanding junior year at EHS, when he averaged over 20 yards per catch. He will pair with flashy Manny Menchaca, who also netted 20-plus on each reception, to give the Bobcats, 4-6 a year ago, one of the best pairs in South Texas.

Northís Juan Ramirez is back as a dependable catcher and a superb return man, while Econís Nelson Hampton (27 catches) is one of the districtís most exciting broken-field runners. The Jags also have steady possession receiver Mark Alvarez back.

Defensively, itís hard to beat the linebacker trio of Ciro Reyna and David Guevara (EHS) and Victor Salinas of Econ. Reyna and Salinas were standouts as sophomores, while the heavy-hitting Guevara is poised for a fantastic senior season. Salinas moves from end to Ďbacker this season; he is an aggressive and quick player with a non-stop motor. Reyna has superb range.

Northís defense is set to become one of the best in the league, thanks to a pair of returning stars in Heltrin Reyes at tackle and Hector Trejo at end. The former is a gritty three-year starter inside while the latter is a great tackler who takes an excellent pursuit angle and closes down in a hurry.

The Econ duo of Roger Garza, a rangy tackle, and powerful tackle Pedro Alvarado will see to it that the Wrecking Crew D assumes its usual stance as a stingy stop troop after an off year in 2008. New defensive coordinator Freddy Hernandez came over from Pharr North in the offseason and word is that heís already given the unit a lift with his spirited and emotional style.

As far as overall teams go, North is poised to make the playoffs for the third year in a row, but must retool the offensive line and find a replacement for district rushing king Marco Adriana, an All-Valley pick as a senior.

The Bobcats have a handful of the most talented kids in the league, and are fast at work in offseason workouts to fill in the gaps, depth-wise. They have the leading returning rusher in Rolando Palacios (three 100-yard games) and on offense, the best skill-position group top to bottom.

The Jags are going to be better than last yearís 2-8 disappointment, with the great D-line and some promising underclassmen from a freshman team that won the loop in 2007 now coming of age.

NOTES: Look for in-depth coverage of city spring football in upcoming issues of the Review.