Hundreds of area high school athletes undoubtedly had been looking forward to Monday and their first official practices for the fall season.
One could count Marqus Andrews as among the most eager Blue Springs football players to lace up his cleats at Peve Stadium as the Wildcats began their trek to attempt a state championship three-peat. The senior tight end broke his ankle in the third game – a freak occurrence, as a teammate on the line happened to roll into it.
“It feels great to be back; the ankle was feeling great,” Andrews said following the late-morning workout.
Practices started at 6 a.m. for Blue Springs and several other teams in the area – the first early alarm in a while for many students.
“I had to go to bed earlier,” Andrews said, “but it gets us ready for school.”
At the end of practice, Andrews and his teammates listened to head coach Kelly Donohoe provide a couple examples of strangers coming up to him and expressing their admiration for the Wildcat football program. They desire to keep that tradition going, but to do so they can’t rest on prior laurels, Andrews said.
“We’ve got to block out some of that out, though,” he said. “We can’t get too complacent.”
Donohoe isn’t too concerned about that. After back-to-back Class 6 state championships, his program graduated a class that included five Division I players – including two-time Simone Award-winning running back Dalvin Warmack – but Andrews is part of a giant 41-player class that includes Nebraska-bound defensive linemen Carlos and Khalil Davis and Holy Cross recruit Ian Brown at quarterback.
“Our guys always work hard, and they do a great job of not being complacent,” Donohoe said. “We’re always challenging them to work a little harder than the year before.
“I felt great about our January to May, and this summer we had high numbers. We’ve got a great group back. We’ve known all along a lot of our juniors (from last year) were a major part of our success. They’re great kids, and they’ve done the things we want them to do.”
Over in Independence, William Chrisman’s football program, led by first-year coach Scorpio Horn, started at 3:30 p.m. due to teachers’ meetings in the morning. Horn is trying to build some momentum in a long-dormant program. The Bears went 1-9 last season and 9-31 in four seasons under Horn’s predecessor, John Crutcher.
“Lots of young kids are excited; it’s good to see them excited to go,” senior lineman Tomasi Tuione said.
Excitement is something the program hasn’t had enough of, Tuione said, a product of the “old Chrisman mentality,” and it’s crucial to maintain that.
“It’s something I learned from being a part of wrestling since we started doing well there,” said Tuione, a state wrestling qualifier. “If we’re not excited, that’s when we start losing.”
Senior quarterback Gannon Ogle said he hopes all the offseason workouts will help curtail the rash of the injuries that plagued the Bears last season.
“We try to do the best we can to help the young kids, so we can improve in the future,” Ogle said. “We’re quicker than we have been. All the lifting, stretching, running we’ve been doing ... I feel like we’re going to be a better team.”
Ogle and Tuione are two of just five seniors on the Bears’ roster, but Horn points toward a much bigger junior class as a reason to think his program can take steps forward, and he was happy with his players’ offseason work and how the staff worked with them.
“That’s the most rewarding thing; it’s something to build on and something to grow,” Horn said. “All summer long, we had a pretty good rapport with the kids. We’re teaching them how to be a family, to look out for each other and not just be individuals. That’s the main job, the main focus with these kids.”