Opening day: New coach David White happy to get first official practice in with Wildcats
Welcome to football in the world of a pandemic.
Temperatures are checked for everyone entering Blue Springs High School and the Peve Stadium football field and masks are mandatory once inside the facility.
But the air of excitement for the first official day of football practice far exceeds the world of doubt everyone has lived in the past five months as all prep, collegiate and professional sports activities were either canceled, postponed or put on hold until a meeting of minds could figure how to get back to some state of normalcy.
For first-year head coach David White, Monday was more refreshing than a cool breeze on a hot summer day. It was the first official day of fall sports practice for Missouri State High School Activities Association members.
“Man, it’s football and our guys were out there working hard this morning,” White said from his temporary office inside the Peve Stadium press box, as coaches’ offices are being moved and renovated. “You could tell the guys were excited. We just had helmets and pads, but we worked out in jerseys, which gave everyone a little extra juice, a little extra energy.
“We had a lot of excited players and coaches out on the field this morning, and it’s just going to get more and more exciting as we head into our first game against Liberty.”
White, who was head coach at Ridgeland (Miss.) High School last season, was selected from an elite group of applicants to replace longtime head coach Kelly Donohoe, who won 191 games over the past two decades with the Wildcats.
“We have a great tradition – a winning tradition, and a tradition of winning the right way – that we all want to continue,” White said. “Today, we were able to get in some practice time while keeping our guys safe and following all the state and district rules and guidelines.
“These first couple of days we’re just going to be running through some things and getting the guys excited about being back on the field. But I’m letting them know right now, on day one, that every player is expected to contribute in their own way, to be a great teammate and to get after it out on the field.
“We expect guys to step it up, to play the type of football that has made Blue Springs such a great program.”
One of those players is senior all-state lineman Beau Stephens, who has verbally committed to Iowa and was recently named an All-America candidate by Sports Illustrated.
“Beau is a special player,” said White, a former director of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “I’ve reached out to some of my coaching buddies and I want to help him get that All-American recognition because he is a player! It’s the first day of practice and he has already emerged as a leader on this team.”
Stephens, a 6-foot-6, 320-pound center/defensive lineman, said the first day of practice with a new head coach was more than he anticipated.
“I couldn’t sleep last night because I was so excited, and once we all got on the field, we were thinking about football and not the pandemic,” Stephens said. “It was great. We’ve had a few weeks of conditioning and I am really impressed by Coach White.
“He doesn’t care if you’re a starter or a third-string guy, an offensive or defensive guy, he gets after you and he’s already made me a better player. It was such an honor to play for Coach Donohoe, and I’m really looking forward to playing for Coach White my senior year.”
White lavished praise on Stephens, who is important to the team on the field and in the locker room.
“Beau is an amazing athlete and a leader, one of the guys all our players look up to,” White said. “But I’ve gotten on him a couple of times and he’s really responded. All we’re doing is trying to make everyone on our team a better player and person.”
White said it would be awhile before he and his staff get into the Xs and Os with his players.
“This is the new normal – for now – and I wanted the guys to get excited about football again,” said White, who won three conference championships from 2003-06 at Las Vegas-area power Bishop Gorman High School before he became a graduate assistant and assistant coach at the University of Oklahoma and then a running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Nevada. “There’s been a lot of anxiety, wondering what’s going on with the COVID-19, would we be allowed back on the field, heck, are we going to have school or a season this fall?
“But we’re back today, we had a great first day and want to have an even better practice tomorrow.”