One of the most critical football seasons ever at Miami High School begins to take shape in earnest Tuesday afternoon.

Because of the quirk of the calendar, season openers won't be played until Sept. 4-5 - and as a result, practices don't start until Tuesday statewide.

The Wardogs will be competing in Class 5A for the first time since the 1993 season.

Head coach Chris Risenhoover, 26-19 in four seasons, is expecting 40 players for Tuesday's 2 p.m. first session at the MHS practice field, located east of the high school.

The practice site has been moved northeast a little since construction of the new track complex is under way.

"We'll go through our normal school day-type practice and Summer Pride will be included," Risenhoover said. "We'll go for about 3 hours.

Teams must spend the first three days working out minus pads.

The Dogs will have their first full-contact drills on Friday, then will stage their Blue-White Scrimmage Saturday at 10 a.m.

The Wardog Kickoff Banquet will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at First Christian Church. Former University of Oklahoma star Joe Washington will be the guest speaker.

The Wardogs will scrimmage at Muskogee on Aug. 22 then will visit Vinita on Aug. 29.

The 2008 home opener will be Sept. 5 at home against Wagoner - which had been a district foe of MHS the past six years.

"It's nice not to have to play a school four- or five-times bigger than us," Risenhoover said, referring to Rogers, Ark., which had been MHS' opening-round foe the past two years. "Wagoner still is one of the better teams in 4A. We look forward to the challenge."

The Bulldogs rolled to a 35-21 victory in last year's meeting, their third straight. Miami's last win in the series was a 41-22 decision in 2004.

“It's a revenge game for us since they got us the last couple of years,” Risenhoover said. “We feel we have a qualify team. We will see where we're at that first week.”

Miami's other non-district games will be at Jay on Sept. 12 and here with Grove on Sept. 19.

The 5A-3 opener will be Sept. 26 at Bixby.

For the first time in recent memory, the MHS schedule will have back-to-back Thursday night games - Oct. 16 at home with Tulsa Rogers and Oct. 23 against Tulsa Hale at the EastSide Sports Complex, located on the campus of Tulsa East Central High School.

Other district games at home will be against Tulsa Washington on Oct and Pryor on Oct. 31 and the other road dates are Oct. 10 at Skiatook and Nov. 7 at Tulsa Kelley.

The Wardogs return a handful of starters from a team that went 5-6, losing their final four games.

“The area we're most concerned about is our back end and the receiver corps,” Risenhoover said. “We've had some success in our 7-on-7 passing leagues and all, but we've got so many of them who are two-way players. We're just thin there. There are a couple of kids we went into spring ball with that we haven't seen all summer.

“The ones we have are outstanding - give them the space and we can let their abilities shine.”

Risenhoover said the offensive backfield and offensive and defensive lines are areas of strength.

“We just need to stay healthy and make sure we are ready Week 1,” Risenhoover said.