Every time Blue Springs football coach Kelly Donohoe walks on the practice field he smiles.
That’s because his Wildcats are healthy and ready to roar into the 2017 season.
Last year, an injury-plagued Wildcat team stunned the experts by making it all the way to the Class 6 state championship game despite losing every starter in the backfield.
Chase Donohoe, the coach’s son, broke his foot; running backs Nick Wood (dislocated hip), Aveion Bailey (broken ankle) and Michael Warmack (ankle injury) could not play in the championship game and star running back Jaylen Ivey saw limited action, but suffered an high ankle sprain and eventually needed ACL surgery to repair an earlier injury.
On top of that, offensive lineman Hayden Holloway (ACL) and defensive back Nick Hessefort (knee) were sidelined by injuries, but the backups came in and got the job done – all the way to the state championship game before falling 31-14 to Kirkwood.
“Last year was such a testimony to our reserve players,” Kelly Donohoe said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s so exciting to walk down to the practice field and see all the guys who missed so many games last season out there taking part in drills, smiling, looking forward to the upcoming season.
“They’re not all 100 percent, but they’re getting there.”
Chase Donohoe said he is ready to wipe out the memories of a broken foot that kept him out of the Wildcats’ exciting postseason run to the title game.
“I still haven’t taken a hit – they’re taking pretty good care of me – but I feel like I’m 100 percent and ready to go,” the senior quarterback said. “The thing I’m most happy about is that I have my timing back with my wide receivers.
“We have worked hard on that. All the guys have come in after practice and during the down time to work with me and it’s been great. We’re all excited about getting back playing this season. The one good thing – if there is one good thing – about the injuries last year is that we were all underclassmen and could come back this year.”
Ivey is also happy to get one more chance in high school. After opening the season with an explosive seven-touchdown game against Lee’s Summit, he battled through an injury-plagued season that saw him get limited action in the championship game.
He scored both Wildcat touchdowns, before re-injuring the ankle and watching the rest of the game from the sidelines.
“That was so tough,” said Ivey, who is expected to rejoin his teammates on the field in Week 3 of the upcoming season. “We’re taking it slow, because I want to be 100 percent for this season. Right now, I’d say I’m about 90 percent. But I don’t want to play until I’m 100 percent, and I can help this team reach the state championship game again.
“And this year, we want to win it all. That would help all of us who were injured last year and had to watch our teammates, the members of our family, from the sidelines. That was just so tough.”
One of the players who enjoyed a breakout season in 2016 is fullback/tight end Caleb Marquez. He filled much of the void left with all the injuries to Wildcat running backs.
“It’s great to be playing football again,” said Marquez, who starred for the Blue Springs Rod’s Sports A’s American Legion baseball team this summer after playing baseball for the Wildcats in the spring. “And it’s even better to see all the guys healthy. We took a lot of pride in what we accomplished last year with Chase and Jaylen and Aveion and all the guys who were hurt. Now, with them back, we could have a lot of success.
“But we know that nothing is going to be handed to us. We have to keep working hard every day at practice to make sure we can accomplish our goal of going to state and winning a state championship.”