COLUMBIA — Evan Conrad spends his time before practice alone.
Every day after school the senior lineman pulls up alongside the coaches' trailer, opens the door and gets dressed outside of his truck.
Hickman (4-5, 1-1 in District 6)
vs. Jefferson City (6-2, 2-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Pete Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City
RADIO: KTGR/1580 AM
Hickman's playoff chances are still alive, but complicated. With a victory Friday, the Kewpies would advance with Fort Zumwalt West as the top two teams in Class 6, District 6. However, Hickman would not advance if both it and Fort Zumwalt West win by one point. Fort Zumwalt West, Jefferson City and Hickman would then be tied atop the standings at 2-1. But in the tiebreaker system, Jefferson City would be district champion with its tie in the point differential (+13) with Zumwalt West and head-to-head victory over Zumwalt. Fort Zumwalt West (7-2, 1-1) plays Troy Buchanan (4-5, 0-2) on Friday night.
Go to ColumbiaMissourian.com for a interactive look back at the Hickman-Jefferson City rivalry going back to 1910.
It's not because Conrad enjoys the solitude, or doesn't like spending the time with his teammates. It's that this season's Hickman football team doesn't have a locker room.
Earlier this year, the funding for the school's new locker room didn't go through, pushing the start date for construction, originally planned for the spring, back to the beginning of August. The result has left the Kewpies without a locker room for the entire season, and has created difficulties ranging from creating team chemistry to establishing player-coach rapport.
For Hickman coach Jason Wright, the idea of a new locker room hadn't come a moment too soon. The old locker room hadn't been renovated in nearly half a century, and with lockers too small and many that wouldn't open, the situation had become almost unbearable.
"I'm glad that we're getting it, because it's overdue," Wright said of the new locker room. "However, the timing has just been horrible."
That timing has forced the Kewpies to be resourceful in finding a replacement.
The new changing area is on a landing in the school's swimming pool area. The 40x30-foot concrete landing is lined with a few benches against its back wall. After practice ends, purple equipment bags, scattered helmets and unorganized pads line the floor. The area is roughly half the size it was when the season began because the start of wrestling season brought wrestling mats that further crowded the makeshift locker room.
The door leading to the pool area is rarely locked, leaving equipment vulnerable.
"It's been a complete mess up there in the pool because we have no locker. Guys have their stuff spread all over the place," Wright said. "We've had more stuff missing, stolen, lost."
The distance to the training room also makes it difficult for players to get their ailments and ankle tapings taken care of before practice begins. Not having a central area before games has also proved difficult. The Kewpies often bounce from room to room in the hours leading up to home contests. Some of the players dress in the weight room and then travel out to a trailer outside for pre-game meetings.
While the inconveniences have been numerous, for Wright and his players it's the less tangible problems that have been the biggest difficulty.
"It is so important," Wright said about having a locker room. "Just from bonding, from camaraderie, talking to your buddies, talking to the guy in the locker next to you that you might not know. All that stuff is just invaluable. It means nothing to the average person, but it means a lot to the coaches when you're talking about building a team. That's where you start is with chemistry and with team dynamics, and that's the first place you start, is in the locker room."
Many of the seniors remember what their situation was like last year and how the time in the locker room spent joking around with the older players was important in establishing team unity. With all the sophomores that the Kewpies are putting on the field this year, not having players like Conrad in the locker room before practice has caused a more difficult acclimation process for the whole team.
"They don't get to be around us before practice and stuff," senior center Nate Meyer said. "We don't get to make that connection with them that we did last year."
"It kind of leaves a legacy with the younger players," senior lineman Josh Harvey said of spending time in the locker room. "(Without a locker room) that legacy of team kind of diminishes."
Along with the difficulties of creating unity among his players, Wright thinks not having a locker room has provided him with a weaker connection to his players than he's had in the past. Last season, Wright's office was inside the locker room and the physical proximity to his players led to a closeness when it was time to take the field.
"I feel like I've been out of touch with this football team," Wright said. "In terms of not visiting with them when they come in, not visiting about their day, their teachers, asking them, 'Hey, what's going on in your life?'
"When they're displaced up there, it's just bad from a rapport standpoint, and I'm a big rapport guy. You've got to have rapport for guys to play for you. When you build those relationships, they put it on the line for their coach. I don't know if that's happened this year because of the circumstances."
Conrad claims that while the time spent in the locker room is often short, it's the closest thing to a home that a football team is going to have.
"It's kind of like your bedroom," Conrad said. "All you do is sleep in your bedroom, but it's your most important room in the house. You do a lot of important stuff outside of your bedroom, but your bedroom is your place."