BY MATT SCHUCKMAN
The heat shouldn’t temper the hype.
Opening night will have plenty of both.
The Missouri State High School Activities Association has moved the start of the prep football season up to a mid-August kickoff, meaning there is a likelihood of high temperatures and high humidity. Count on high intensity, high impact and high-fives as well.
There are high expectations, too.
Hannibal, Palmyra and Mark Twain are coming off campaigns in which all three reached at least the district championship game in their respective classes. Monroe City made it to the district semifinals, only to be eliminated by Mark Twain during its historic run.
Yet, what these four programs share runs deeper than last year’s success.
Each has established an identity and a tradition, and it centers around toughness. Hannibal has been a physical team throughout Mark St. Clair’s coaching career, and this year will be no different, while Monroe City carries a meaner demeanor than most, especially when it suits up head-to-toe in black.
Palmyra no longer retools. It reloads, as evidenced by three straight state quarterfinal appearances and the return of a defense that Panthers coach Kevin Miles expects to be feisty and nasty.
Mark Twain would have been the one program that didn’t fit the bill until everything changed last season. The Tigers put up gaudy offensive numbers, but it was the tenacity of the defense that made winning 11 straight games possible. Now Mark Twain carries an aura to the field where winning is expected, not just appreciated, and the only way to maintain that swagger is by pummelling opponents.
The Tigers are bent on doing that.
Each one of these programs suffered significant graduation losses, from a four-year starter now playing at Stanford to an electric running back who broke every school rushing record to the entire makeup of the offense. Yet, each one of the coaches admits to being highly optimistic about the returning players and the possibility of sustaining success.
Why shouldn’t the coaches be hyped? The tone of the preseason workouts has been intense, forcing some coaches to dial back the contact in order to keep their teams fresh. They’ve raved about the tempo, the competition and the amount of work they’ve been able to get done.
There’s plenty more to do. How much? They won’t exactly know until the first kickoff has come and gone, but history serves as a good indicator the right adjustments will be made to make these teams competitive each and every week.
It will allow them to prove the hype was warranted, and expectations can be met.