MONTGOMERY, Ala. - It's not the first day of school, but something pretty like it is looming over the 12 rookies who are poised to fish the CITGO Bassmaster Tour presented by Busch Beer.

The day of reckoning comes on Jan. 29, the first competition day at the Tour's season opener on the Harris Chain of Lakes near Leesburg, Fla.

"It's like the first day of school in that there's a huge X factor," said Bink Desaro, the Tour's lone Idahoan. "I just don't know what's going to happen. There's a feeling of anticipation."

In addition to the usual concerns of touring anglers, the freshman class has special X factor: the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year points race. In addition to a title, the rookie who earns the most tour points will also take home an end-of-season check for $10,000.

Desaro has only himself to blame if the bulk of expectation is laid at his door. From the Western Open Circuit, he blazed his way into the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, as well as onto the Tour. Along the way, he took the Western Open points championship, defeating Tour veteran John Murray by just one point.

"My main goal is the Rookie of the Year (award)," Desaro said. "Rookie of the Year would qualify me for the Elite 50, but I just want to focus on catching fish and where I end up is where I end up.

"It's all very exciting," he added. "It's like I'm about to cut through the ice and catch a breath of air. I just need to perform in order to stay there."

Alabama native Jimmy Mason knows that self-assurance is key in his hunt for the rookie title. While he is confident in his abilities, he knows the competition at the Tour level is tougher than any he has ever faced.

"Confidence is everything," Mason said. "But all you can do is go out and do your best every day. It's getting to be a clich