AUSTIN — Lined up in the shotgun formation, Belton quarterback Ruben Jimenez took the snap and handed off the ball to running back D’emante Smith, who shifted his way through a sea of linemen for a decent gain.

Defensive end Derrance Daniels bulled his way into the backfield where he soon was joined by more Tigers, who combined to bring down the ball carrier for a loss.

If the sound of pads and helmets crunching together during Thursday night’s scrimmage between Belton and Leander Vandegrift at Monroe Memorial Stadium wasn’t enough to signal that football season had arrived, the boisterous behavior, overflowing enthusiasm and handful of skirmishes certainly proved the point.

It’s go-time.

The Tigers open the year next Friday at Austin Westlake, and the Vipers kickoff their campaign at Cedar Park.

First, though, the programs tried their best to iron out a few kinks against one another for the second straight August. Last year, Belton finished 7-4 and qualified for the playoffs out of District 12-6A. Meanwhile, reigning 13-6A champion Vandegrift didn’t lose in a 12-1 season until a Class 6A Division II semifinal loss to eventual state champ Longview.

The trajectory of the teams over the next few months is to be determined. But Thursday certainly provided a glimpse into what works and what needs to be worked on.

Everything down to where to stand on the sideline was a teachable moment. No second was wasted. Players turned to other players to talk strategy. Coaches were vocal and persistent while delivering their messages. Do this. Yes, sir. Not that. Yes, sir.

Rest assured, every movement was monitored and all will be scrutinized in the film room for the next week.

The officials even had their share of instructional tidbits, mostly encouraging self-control after a few battles in the trenches included some post-whistle pushing and shoving.

The exhibition, which was serenaded by a wide-ranging mix of music continually playing over the stadium’s PA system (a little Queen, AC/DC, Journey and more), was broken into two parts: A controlled session during which the offenses alternated every 10 to 15 plays, and two live quarters of 15 minutes each, with a running clock. The first quarter featured mostly first-string players.

By the time the live quarter was whistled into action, each team had run about 60 plays apiece. No rest for the weary, of course. Belton head coach Sam Skidmore urged his offense to pick up the tempo after two consecutive three-and-outs to begin the first quarter.

Yes. It is indeed football season.