Gaze in just about any direction near Osbourn High School and it seems like somebody is trying to build something, whether it's workers adding the finishing touches to the school renovation project or new football coach Randy Bove trying to make a contender out of the Cardinal District's smallest school.

"New change, new school," Bove said as his players filed off the practice field yesterday afternoon. "They're optimistic, so they're working hard for me."

Bove, a former Stafford and Spotsylvania assistant whose team is one of six in the area practicing this week in preparation for their Aug. 27 season openers, must try to build the Osbourn program without the aid of Elmer's glue. All-Met linebacker Elmer Holmes is now at Marshall University, leaving the Eagles without one of the area's more dominant players in recent seasons.

"A lot of people are thinking we're probably going to be down without [Holmes], but he had a good supporting cast with him, and those kids are now seniors," said Bove, who will have close to 70 players out for the Eagles' varsity and junior varsity programs.

Bove, whose team opens at King George, is one of two new head coaches in the Cardinal. Keith King, the defensive coordinator at Potomac the past two seasons, is now the Panthers' third head coach in three years and sixth in the 1990s. Potomac begins practice next week and opens Sept. 3 against Fork Union Military.

Virginia AAA Division 6 state champion Hylton, Northwestern Region Division 6 finalist Gar-Field, Woodbridge, Manassas Park and Quantico are the other teams opening camp this week.

With several key players back, including senior quarterback Kenny Irby, Hylton is capable of defending its state title. Both the Bulldogs' varsity and junior varsity teams went undefeated last year.

"Once you have some success, then the players know how to succeed," said Hylton Coach Bill Brown, whose team is ranked 46th in the inaugural Fox Fab 50 national poll. "But you have to reflect on the things you did to get there. It doesn't come without paying your dues."

The returning Bulldogs seem to be paying those dues and then some. Brown said his team's collective strength increase since last season has been as dramatic as it has been in his eight years there.

Hylton opens at Petersburg, but its Aug. 21 scrimmage against four-time defending Virginia AAA Division 5 state champion Hampton and annual Northern Region contender Lake Braddock is expected to draw a crowd not unlike a regular season game.

Even though it's just the preseason, the night of Aug. 21 could be a rewarding one for high school football fans in the area. Three Fox Fab 50 teams will be in the eastern end of Prince William County--Hylton and fifth-ranked Hampton at Hylton, and 18th-ranked DeMatha scrimmaging at Woodbridge.

As for stiff competition elsewhere, Brentsville and Manassas Park might find the expanded Bull Run District more taxing this season with the inclusion of state Virginia A playoff qualifiers Madison County and Strasburg, as well as Clarke County.

Clarke and Strasburg joined from the now-defunct Shenandoah District; Madison County joined from the Skyline District.

The Bull Run "is probably as tough a Single A district as there is in the state," said Manassas Park Coach Jeff Lloyd, whose team begins practice today in preparation for its season opener against Quantico. "Madison and Strasburg are two top-notch programs that have been top-notch for a long time."

The Commonwealth District has been shuffled, too. Brooke Point, Culpeper, North Stafford and Stafford remain. Chancellor and Courtland have moved on to the AA Battlefield District. Fauquier, Sherando and James Wood have joined the Commonwealth from the AA Northwestern District. The eighth Commonwealth member is new Stafford County school Colonial Forge.

Colonial Forge Coach Karl Buckwalter will implement a "Midnight Madness" for the Eagles' first practice, like the season-opening workouts he conducted with his past several McLean High School teams. The Eagles' debut is at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

"I really wanted to get the tradition started here because we'll all be coming back next year," said Buckwalter, whose senior-less team will play three varsity games and seven junior varsity games. "The kids aren't used to it. They're saying, 'What are we doing?' "

Because the Eagles' home field is not ready, the first practices will take place at Gayle Middle School. One of the first-year Eagles is freshman James Davis, brother of 1998 All-Met Player of the Year Daniel Davis, the Virginia AAA all-time leading rusher now at the University of North Carolina.

Colonial Forge opens Sept. 3 at Forestville (Md.).

FOOTBALL SCRIMMAGES

Aug. 13

Culpeper at Gar-Field, 6

Aug. 14

Manassas Park at George Mason, 10 a.m. (tentative)

Hylton at Carroll, 10:30 a.m.

Osbourn at Loudoun County, 11 a.m.

Woodbridge at Gonzaga, 4

Aug. 19

Fauquier vs. Osbourn, TBA

Gar-Field at North Stafford, 6

Aug. 20

Stafford at Jamestown, 6

Colonial Forge at Louisa County, 7

Marshall at Stonewall Jackson, 7

Liberty at Brooke Point, 7

James Wood at Osbourn Park, TBA

Aug. 21

O'Connell at Potomac 10 a.m.

Hampton, Lake Braddock at Hylton, 6

DeMatha at Woodbridge, 6

Ireton at Manassas Park, 7

Brentsville at Quantico, TBA

Aug. 25

Colonial Forge, Jefferson, South Lakes at Lee, 5

Osbourn Park at Langley, 7

Aug. 26

Washington-Lee at Potomac, 6

Brentsville at Cumberland, 6

Brooke Point, Stonewall Jackson at Hayfield, 7

North Stafford at Robinson, 7

Aug. 27

Fork Union at Stafford, 6