COLUMBIA — Evan Conrad is a lonely man on Friday nights.
During the transition when the Hickman defense departs the field and the Kewpie offense heads to the huddle, the senior lineman often stands alone on the gridiron.
Such is the life playing both sides of the football.
"I'll just be standing out there," Conrad said. "Waiting."
Conrad is one of about a dozen Kewpies who see regular action on both offense and defense. While the offense has become more innovative and modern this season with spread formations and the use of the shotgun, two-way players gives the Kewpies a mentality consistent with football's older generations.
Hickman defensive coordinator Arnel Monroe remembers those days.
Monroe has coached at Hickman for 13 seasons and played for the Kewpies before graduating in 1986. He has seen the I-formation turn into sets with four or five wide receivers, as well as the specialization of players that leads to them playing one way.
"When I played, you just expected to play both ways," Monroe said. "If you didn't start both ways, you really couldn't boast or brag. That whole 'iron-man' football as they called it, that was an expectation."
That expectation has lessened over time.
College recruiting has pushed players to perfect individual positions as much as possible. Only out of necessity do many teams put their best athletes on both sides of the ball.
That necessity has met the Kewpies head on.
Injuries and a program that pales in numbers compared with Missouri high school football factories like Rockhurst and DeSmet don't give the Kewpies much of an option in putting their best athletes on both sides of the ball.
Hickman coach Jason Wright would love the opportunity to play his players one way, but when injuries occur, Wright says his 11 best players should be on the field.
"Why play a guy that's not ready when you can play an athlete?" Wright said.
Several of Wright's players agree with their coach. They know that focusing on either offense or defense would elevate their performance, but they play where they are needed, no matter how draining it can be.
For offensive and defensive linemen, the physicality of their position — on just one side of the ball — makes Friday nights a draining experience, but linemen like Conrad and Josh Harvey still play both sides each game.
"(By) the second game they were putting us both in on defense and both in on offense," Harvey said. "It didn't fare well by the middle of the second quarter, let alone the whole game. We were out there breathing hard, our minds were scattered. At least for me, I was tired."
It's the grind of playing a majority of the game that makes two-way players special, and coaches appreciate the work it takes.
"I think it's mental toughness," Wright said. "It's character. It's team stuff that you've bought into. A lot of guys don't want to buy into that. They wanna play one way and one way only. You've gotta condition yourself physically and mentally to play both ways."
Along with that toughness, Wright and Monroe say that while many players have become specialized in hopes of being recruited, players that can show a variety of skills on both sides of the ball actually improve their chances of playing at the next level.
"I think it should help them," Monroe said. "I think that any coach that is looking at Evan Conrad who plays 40 snaps on offense and turns around and plays 25-30 snaps on defense back to back and in succession, I think they need to look at that guy as a valuable player to their team. Do you want numbers or do you want a football player?"
"I'm under the assumption that if you're a player, people are going to find you," Wright said.
Senior linebacker and running back Chaun Nebbitt agrees.
"I think it helps because it shows that you're more versatile," Nebbitt said. "It shows what you're capable of."