July hadn’t officially rolled into August before Missouri high school football teams hit the field.
With the season scheduled to begin the earliest it ever has — the first games kicked off Aug. 18 — teams were afforded the opportunity begin practicing at the end of the July. It might seem odd to start so early, but the preparations began months before the school year ended and hot summer days became the norm.
The work took place in the dead of winter, inside musty weight rooms and dingy coaches’ offices. That’s where the players committed themselves to becoming bigger, faster and stronger, and the coaches dissected every second of game film to unearth what went right, what went wrong and what had to change.
Preseason practice is all about implementing those changes.
Hannibal must alter its plan of attack. After three seasons with Shamar Griffith as the workhorse in the backfield, the Pirates are without a bona fide all-state-caliber running back. So they’ll employ a bevy of backs capable of collectively churning out the numbers Griffith did in becoming the program’s all-time leading rusher.
Should the Pirates find a way to make that possible, another state quarterfinal berth isn’t out of the question. They’ve won 22 games the last two years combined and relish another chance to solve the Kearney riddle.
Meanwhile, Monroe City and Palmyra have high aspirations of their own.
Monroe City reached the Class 1 state championship game last season, and although graduation took its toll, it is blessed with a stable of speed and plenty of experience. Last year’s deep playoff run might be the start of a decade of dominance the way the 1990s were, although Monroe City would prefer to change the ending.
Palmyra seeks a better ending, as well. Following back-to-back state semifinal appearances, Palmyra failed to get past the district semifinals last fall, losing to top-seeded Macon on the road. Being aggressive on the ground can change Palmyra’s fortune as a group led by Peyton Plunkett is determined to be able to run the ball against any defense.
Mark Twain has been able to do that the last two seasons, and controlling the clock and the tempo the Tigers are willing to give up. Expect more hard-nosed football in the Eastern Missouri Conference as Mark Twain tries to figure out how to translate regular-season success into a playoff run beyond the district tournament.
Changes are coming, and they’ve been in the works for a while. Soon we will start to see if the moves are worthwhile or the coaches have to revisit their gameplan. Either way, football season is here to entertain us.
That can’t ever start too early, can it?
— By Matt Schuckman