"Winning always matters, but it's not the end-all, be-all."
There's a chasm between area coaches in terms of expectations and approach surrounding the preseason Kickoff Classic.
Is it the almighty win they value? Or is it finalizing the depth charts?
Is it opening up the playbook and incorporating new game plans? Or is it rolling with the tried-and-true Xs and Os in search of cleaning up the offensive kinks and strengthening the defensive execution?
The secrets of the playbook are sometimes kept under lock, so keeping the cards close to the vest and walking away healthy may simply be enough. Or just maybe the final dress rehearsal to the regular season is a meaningless affair, its main purpose meant to prepare the athletes for the harsh spotlight of Friday Night Lights.
To be clear, there's no right approach. And that's especially true when you question if there's a place for moral victories in the preseason.
How about we consult the experts.
Hey coaches, you care about winning the Kickoff Classic?
South Walton's Phil Tisa, whose Seahawks host Freeport Friday at 7 p.m.: "Uh, no."
Freeport's Shaun Arntz: "Anytime the lights are on and the scoreboard is up, we want to win."
Choctaw's Greg Thomas, who welcomes Gulf Breeze Friday at 7 p.m.: "We always would like to win, but every team just kind of does their own thing. Winning isn't our focus. It's getting reps and figuring out if we're ready."
Niceville's John Hicks, whose team hosts Pace Friday at 7 p.m.: "No, I don't think winning matters as much as playing well."
Fort Walton Beach's Phil Dorn, whose team travels to Leon Friday for a 6 p.m. (Central) kickoff: "The purpose of the game is not to win but to figure out where we're at. We want to feel like everybody out there can compete."
Crestview’s Tim Hatten, whose team travels to Washington for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday night: “Nope. We just want to get out of it healthy.”
Baker's Matt Brunson, whose team travels to Jay Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff: "If we're keeping score, we want to win. But at the same time everybody will participate no matter the score and our main goal is to build depth and see if guys can contribute."
Navarre's Jay Walls, whose team hosts Chiles Thursday night at 7 p.m.: "Winning always matters, but it's not the end-all, be-all. It's more about getting live reps, some competition and getting that last trial run in."
Jimmy Ray Stephens, whose team travels to Jay for a Friday 7 p.m. start: "You never line up and play to lose, so you definitely want to win. ... But more than anything we want to play well and improve each time we line up."
For every team, the varsity starters will get around a half of play with the backups and JV assuming the rest of the snaps.
South Walton and Freeport's game will feature the starters in the first half, as will Baker, Choctaw, Crestview, Fort Walton Beach, Navarre and Walton. Niceville, meanwhile, will play its starters in the second half.
Of course every coach will have a different focus.
Brunson is looking to air it out — "I don't care how deep their safeties are, we'll throw it long."
Hicks is eager to see how the offensive line and sophomore quarterback Will Koch handles themselves.
Thomas said the "secondary and offensive line are big question marks" along with a backfield reeling after the season-ending knee injury to Zakk Childers.
Dorn wants to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses on the lines and watch the team's speed in action.
In the Battle of the Bay, Arntz is focused on blocking, ball security and shoring up the fundamentals while Tisa covets live game experience but also healthy bodies headed into next week.
Walls is looking for consistency on all accounts — running, passing, kicking, lining up defensively —and a great effort with a nose for the ball.
Hatten is only worried about health — "Nothing else matters."
Meanwhile Stephens is focused on ... well, "everything."