Now that August has finally arrived, football-crazed Southeast Texans know it’s only a matter of time before the high school and college seasons will begin for real, as the hopeful athletes get their bodies and minds ready for the start of the season at the end of the month.

The wretched but very necessary conditioning drills have begun for most high school and collegiate football players as the various area teams either try to make prophets of the pre-season prognosticators who picked them to win or goats of the ones who picked them to finish near the bottom of the district standings.

Right now every team is undefeated with visions of making the state playoffs and even the state championship and the positive attitudes are unanimous during these important weeks of high school football practice sessions.

And as far as area college football is concerned, we still only have our alma mater McNeese State as the actively competitive area school playing football, although that won’t be true when Lamar gets officially reincarnated and rejoins the Southland Conference in a couple of years.

Our Cowboys, who have had only two losing seasons since 1991, hit a small bump in the road last season and as a result the Southland Conference coaches and sports information directors have picked Texas State to be the 2009 conference champion with McNeese a unanimous second choice in both pre-season polls.
For the past four decades Southeast Texas was a prime recruiting area for McNeese and the Pokes landed their share of talent even when Lamar was going great guns in football. This season the Cowboys have more than a dozen players from Southeast Texas, including five starters.

On the professional level, the Dallas Cowboys are looking for a better running attack to complement quarterback Tony Romo’s passing game on offense, while the Houston Texans are looking for more defense to go with their new-found offense that surfaced during the second half of last season.

The beginning of August meant that the trading deadline without players clearing waivers ended July 31 for major league baseball, with several teams helping themselves greatly while others—like our Houston Astros—stood pat despite an end-of-the-month swoon.
If the pre-season-favored St. Louis Cardinals don’t win the National League Central Division after all their wheeling and dealing last week, then they need to make some changes in the front office.
The Cards picked up three great offensive players in Matt Holliday, former Astro Julio Lugo and Mark DeRosa and didn’t give up many players on their 40-man roster to get them.  In less than a week this trio is batting over .350, has crashed 11 home runs and drove in more than 20 runs.

Our Astros played seven games against St. Louis in the past two weeks with Holliday batting .606 (20-for-33) before Sunday’s finale where he got collared. Holliday bats clean-up and gives slugger Albert Pujols an opportunity to see much better pitches in his No. 3-spot in the Cardinals’ lineup.

Holliday was traded by Oakland for three young prospects in the Cardinals’ farm system but really made his mark in the National League with the Colorado Rockies, where he led the league in hitting and RBIs two years ago and was very close in the balloting for the MVP that year.

Lugo can play second and third base but figures to share time at shortstop with Brendan Ryan. He also has good speed and should be able to bolster St. Louis’ base-stealing deficiency. Lugo swiped 33 bases two years ago with the Boston Red Sox and should eventually work his way into an everyday role.

As far as this Korner is concerned, the main reason Houston didn’t get into the trading act as the deadline approached, is that many of the players with trade value were sidelined with injuries.

Slugger Lance Berkman and versatile Darin Erstad are both on the disabled list nursing pulled hamstring muscles. Ace pitcher Roy Oswalt missed a start because of a sore lower back and Wandy Rodriguez came out of the game Saturday with a hamstring problem.

Catcher Pudge Rodriguez is playing with a sore throwing hand he hurt on the home plate umpire’s mask on an attempted steal by St. Louis that was nullified by umpire’s interference, something we’ve never heard of in our 50 years of playing organized baseball.
And shortstop Miguel Tejada remained in the game Sunday after being hit by a pitch on his left hand.

Although the Astros had a chance to sweep last weekend’s three-game series at St. Louis, they managed to only win Sunday’s finale 2-0 thanks to a superb performance by rookie Bud Norris in his first major league start.

His 4-9 record at Class AAA Round Rock didn’t justify his earned run average of under 3.00. It obvious that Round Rock has a pathetic offense, probably another reason the Astros couldn’t pull off a trade for some minor league “prospects.” Norris hurled seven innings of shut-out baseball and had a no-hitter for five innings before giving up only two hits to St. Louis.

Saturday’s game at Busch Stadium was lost when a passed ball by Humberto Quintero allowed a run to score that broke a 1-1 tie late in the game. And on Friday a wild pitch by reliever Alberto Arias set up the winning run as Houston lost 4-3 after leading 3-2 going into the bottom of the eighth inning.

The Astros, 52-53 and 41/2 games behind the first place Cardinals, returned home Monday for a three-game series with the San Francisco Giants, an off-day Thursday and then a weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

KWICKIES…Our criminals posing as athletes report finds NY Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress indicted on three counts by a New York grand jury Monday and could face 3 1/2 -15 years of jail time for discharging a weapon in a night club last year. His teammate Antonio Pierce, who was with him when the incident occurred, was cleared of all charges. And the list of NFL teams not interested in signing Michael Vick continues to grow with the New England Patriots and Cleveland Browns saying no while our Houston Texans are unlikely to want his quarterbacking services. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tavarius Jackson suffered a knee sprain last weekend, but Vick’s name was not mentioned as a possible backup.

As of Monday, there still were 11 first-round draft picks unsigned by their respective NFL teams. However, most of the players expected to move into starting jobs this fall have already come to terms with their teams.

West Orange-Stark Mustangs head coach Dan Hooks said Sunday night on KFDM-TV  that he was glad Mark Foreman decided to “un-retire” and return as a Mustang assistant coach. The dean of Texas high school football coaches also believed that his team felt no extra pressure by being picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Magazine to win the Class 3A state football title this fall. “These kids are used to playing under pressure,” Hooks commented. “After all, they are still undefeated in district play since dropping down to 3A six years ago.”

JUST BETWEEN US…Since it will not be held anymore, Tiger Woods is going to miss playing in the Buick Open, which he won for the third time Sunday, because Warwick Hills has been so special to him. Golfweek Magazine reported that The Greenbrier in West Virginia is waiting for the PGA Tour to confirm it will replace the Buick Open in 2010. Tiger took advantage of the easy course and the relatively weak field to win by three strokes to post his 69th Pro Tour win, trailing just Jack Nicklaus (73) and Sam Snead (82). Woods reached his 69th win at age 33 years, 7 months, nearly seven years quicker than Nicklaus and eight years sooner than Snead. Tiger plans on playing in the Bridgestone Invitational this week before going to Hazeltine for the PGA Championship and his final chance to win a major this year. This will be the first time in his career that he competes in two straight tournaments before going into a major.