Instead of having his players up before the crack of dawn, Lee’s Summit High football coach Eric Thomas let them sleep in.
So while many teams were getting an early start Aug. 4 on the first day of football and fall sports practice, Thomas’ Tigers didn’t take the field until 5:30 p.m. for a walkthrough, followed by meetings and a three-hour workout from 7:30-10:30.
It’s not that Thomas isn’t a morning person. He just thinks they can get more done under the lights.
“We get better results out of them in the evening, we feel like,” Thomas said. “They wouldn’t go to bed in the evening anyway, so we might as well practice when they’re going to stay up.”
The biggest reason for getting up early is to beat the heat, and Thomas was doing that during summer workouts. But when he switched to evening workouts during the last week in July, he and the coaching staff noticed that they were getting more done. Kids weren’t showing up bleary eyed after staying up late, and they had a whole day to replenish fluids and recover.
“We just kind of felt like our kids do better, and honestly our coaches do better, after having a day to prepare.” Thomas said.
Thomas expects to have 150 players out for the team, which is coming off a 10-2 season and a trip to the Class 6 state quarterfinals. Included in that number is senior quarterback Drew Lock, a two-sport star who committed last spring to play football at Missouri.
With Lock returning, and after getting to work on the offense and defense during the summer, Thomas said the biggest emphasis early on will be on special teams, which was the case on that first night.
“We spent more than an hour on special teams last night between our walkthrough and our practice time,” Thomas said. “Those are things we don’t spend a lot of time on during the summer, so now it’s a big hit here in the first two to three weeks to get those lined out.”
At Lee’s Summit North, coach Ty Kohl had his players out on the field for a late-morning practice. After a summer of full pads and seven-on-seven play, he said dialing back to the state-mandated rules limiting early contact made for a hard adjustment.
“It’s a different routine trying to get the kids mentally focused when you’re just in a helmet and jersey,” Kohl said. “But we’re glad to be back out there and getting things going.”
Kohl expects to have 90 out for the team, which is coming off a 2-8 season and must find new starters at many skill positions.
“We started off kind of rough,” Kohl said of the first workout. “Some guys we were counting on didn’t have physicals, some guys were late. But the guys who were here worked through that and we finished off a great practice for the first day.”
Lee’s Summit West coach Royce Boehm wasted no time getting the season started. He had his Titans out on the field by 6 a.m., well before sunrise.
“A beautiful morning to start it off,” Boehm said.
Boehm has 165 kids on the team, which won the Class 5 state title last season. But this season the Titans move up to Class 6, and Boehm needs to find replacements for several departed Division-I caliber athletes, most notably three-sport star Monte Harrison. Harrison turned down a scholarship to play football and baseball at Nebraska to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The first practice went well, Boehm said, and he was especially pleased with the attitude and leadership he saw from his seniors. But that didn’t make the first day any more enjoyable for him. It rarely ever is.
“I hate the first day of practice, mainly because you have to deal with the kids with no physicals that you’ve been harping on to get their physicals done,” Boehm said. “You have 15 to 20 guys sitting out because they don’t have their physical, which doesn’t make you happy as a coach because now those guys are all a day behind.”
With so little time to prepare, that can be a problem. Most teams have jamborees scheduled for Aug. 15, and the season opener comes up Aug. 22. And the players and coaches are all feeling the urgency.
“There was a little bit different intensity with the kids last night,” Thomas said Aug. 5. “Even with our coaches it’s time to pick it up a notch. With last night done, we’re 14 practices away from being in a game.”