SALT LAKE CITY — They gather early in the morning to lift weights. They gather in the late afternoon to run sprints. The gather to watch film, learn plays, share ideas, talk trash and just navigate life.

And as the days grow shorter, the air cooler, high school football players everywhere are energized by the endless opportunities of fall.

To kick off the 2010 season, the Deseret News will feature a video countdown of the top 20 prep football teams. The rankings were determined by pre-season polls, and the project offers fans a unique glimpse of the top teams.

Today's featured team is No. 18 Skyline.

Despite entering his 40th season as a high school football coach, Roger Dupaix's passion for what football can teach young men remains as strong as ever. One of the most storied football programs in the state, the Eagles have won 13 championships — eight of those under Dupaix.

The camaraderie, the toughness, the challenge — both mentally and physically — are the reasons the game has become as much a culture as it is sport.

"It's just so much fun," Dupaix said. "It's physical. I loved it when I played it. And there is the friendship and fellowship."

Skyline football, said assistant coach and former Eagle football player Beau Marlowe, "is almost a way of life."

Dupaix's hope is that when life gets tough, they will draw on their experiences as an Eagle to find the will to persevere.

His players are looking forward to living up to the Eagle tradition, including a rivalry that returned last year with Olympus. The two teams, separated by just a couple of miles, will play for "the rock" and bragging rights in a non-region match-up.

"I'm very glad to have the game back," said senior tight end/defensive end Andrew Wittwer. It is especially meaningful because Olympus beat Skyline last year and now possesses The Rock.

"If you go to Skyline, you care about the rock," said senior Mike Pell. "It's in the DNA. I get angry just talking about it knowing that they have the rock."

Dupaix is on the verge of another milestone this season as he currently has 299 wins. Wittwer said he has nothing but respect for his head coach.

"He has the funniest little comments," he said, laughing a little. "He's a very, very good coach."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com