If experience counts for anything, Northern Virginia's five new high school football coaches should have no problem preparing their teams for the season openers, even if they are less than a month away.

Four of the new coaches who began practice with their teams this week -- Dudley Johnson at Falls Church, Bruce Hanson at Yorktown, Jim Hayes at O'Connell and Frank Creneti at West Springfield -- took over relatively established programs, but Dan Meier, the head coach at Fairfax County's newest high school, West Potomac, may have the most difficult job.

West Potomac is the result of the merger of Groveton and Fort Hunt High Schools. Some would say Meier is blessed because he has the personnel that, had those schools not been closed, would have formed two high school teams, but Meier is unconvinced. He knows he has to meld a team where there was none before.

"I feel like a man who adopts two boys from different backgrounds," said Meier, who inherited players from two schools that once were arch rivals. "First, you have to make these boys realize they're brothers, and then you have to get on with the family business."

The family business will come soon enough. The Wolverines and nine other high schools started practicing Aug. 7 in preparation for their week-early opening day Aug. 30. All the other Group AAA schools waited until this Monday to begin practice and will open their seasons Sept. 6.

"When two schools come together, a lot of people will say there is the possibility of a powerhouse," Meier said. "But one thing to keep in mind is that Groveton was 0-10 last year and Fort Hunt was 6-5. Collectively, they were 6-15, so there is no guarantee of success."

Meier knows about football success. A former nose guard and defensive tackle for Coach Lou Holtz at North Carolina State (1972-75), he went on to turn around a 1-9 team at Orange High School, going 21-9 over the next three seasons.

Meier, 31, is not the only new coach to have played for Holtz. Hanson, who is replacing Tony Romasco at Yorktown, played defensive end for Holtz at William and Mary in the late 1960s and early '70s. Hanson later was head coach at Wakefield High School before becoming an assistant for four years at Chantilly and for one at W.T. Woodson.

At Falls Church, Johnson, 30, will take over for Bill Wohlford as head coach of the Jaguars. Johnson, who played offensive line for four years at William and Mary, was offensive and special teams coordinator for four years at North Stafford High School. Last year, he also was head wrestling coach at Falls Church.

Creneti, who coached Fort Hunt for 10 years, is replacing Bill Hanley at West Springfield. Hanley moves to Fairfax as an assistant.

Creneti has a host of experienced coaches to complement his knowledge including Fred Benevento, who was head coach at O'Connell for three seasons.

Hayes is replacing Benevento at O'Connell. Hayes was an assistant coach for 10 years at the Arlington Catholic school. He will retain the same assistant coaches from last year, including former NFL running back Terry Metcalf.