COLUMBIA — Just because the Hickman football team’s quarterback isn’t being sacked, the receivers aren’t being tackled and the tight ends aren’t blocking full out during practice, does not mean they aren’t working hard.
Jefferson City ( 7-2, 2-0 in district) at Hickman (4-5, 1-1)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
The Kewpies have just one district game left against rival Jefferson City that they see as a must win to clinch a berth in the playoffs. According to coach Jason Wright, the team prepares by watching film and doing multiple mental repetitions of plays in addition to physically running them.
“We don’t hardly take anybody to the ground in practice,” Wright said. “We just try and make sure you get there, make sure you’re running the right routes and you know the defenders going to be there, but he’s not going to tackle you to the ground.”
Wright said that at this point in the season, Hickman (4-5) should already be physically ready for tough competitors like Jefferson City (7-2). The Jays have already guaranteed themselves a spot in the playoffs with wins against Troy Buchanan and Fort Zumwalt West.
“I just think you’ve got to prepare better mentally at this time,” Wright said. “It’s not so much physically now. The physical part’s done. It’s more mental than anything. If you’re not going to be physical in week 10 it’s just over with, you’re not going to be good.”
According to junior linebacker Mike Mattie, Jefferson City presents some new challenges for the team.
“It’s a whole new offense that we’re trying to figure out how to play against so we’re trying to work out everything mentally first,” Mattie said. “They’re an option team, and we haven’t really played any option teams yet, so we’re just working on our responsibilities …We’re just making sure we know everything that we’re supposed to do on any given play. We walk through stuff a lot.”
Injuries and sickness also play a role in the change of pace in practice.
“Some of our guys are getting a little more healthy,” Wright said. “Some guys are playing with bum shoulders, bum knees, the whole works, so we’re pretty banged up …When you get like we are with nine guys who are really injured, that are playing through something, you want to scale back from that standpoint on physical contact.”
Stefanie West, an athletic trainer for the team, helps to advise Wright and his players on the severity and treatment of injuries.
“Every year Hickman has a lot of injuries,” West said. “It’s kind of been our history. Is it that they work too hard all year? I don’t know that, but the injuries are so specific and individual … We’re in district mode now, so we have a long list of athletes that are injured that are starters and they are doing limited reps in practice.”
West, along with the rest of the trainers and the team’s doctor, goes to practice every day as well as to games. She also speaks with coach each day about injured players and their capabilities. She does her best to prepare athletes to play hurt.
“Some things we can tape for that will support that structure and let them participate, but those athletes are ones that have a heart for the game that are either upperclassmen going on to the higher level or they want to play in that last game,” West said. “A lot of times I tell athletes the hardest part of being injured is watching somebody else do your job.”
One of those players determined to play through injuries is Mattie. Despite going at half-speed during practice and walking with a slight limp on his way to visit the trainers, Mattie will play this weekend.
“The last couple weeks, (West) didn’t want me to play, but I did,” Mattie said. “Coach Wright didn’t really know how bad it was I don’t think, but it’s not bad enough that I can’t play on it. It’s just the end of the season. I don’t have anything else to look forward to other than playing. I don’t have any other sports I play, so I have time to heal after.”