COLUMBIA — "We're burning daylight," Hickman football coach Arnel Monroe was shouting at the start of the Kewpies' practice just after 7 p.m. Tuesday. "We're burning daylight."
The sky was blushing with pinks and oranges. Grant Jones, a Missouri commit and Hickman's returning tight end and defensive end, was preparing for his senior season in the only way he knew how: as if it were any other.
Coach: Arnel Monroe (21st season)
Last season: 9-2 (lost in district championship)
Returning starters: 15 (seven offense, eight defense)
Friday: vs. Lee's Summit North, 8 p.m.
Sept. 6: at Holt, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13: at Fort Zumwalt East, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20: at Helias, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27: vs. Rock Bridge, 7 p.m.
Oct. 4: vs. Jefferson City
Oct. 18: at Jackson
Oct. 25: vs. Rockhurst
Nov. 1: Districts, TBA
He participates in a drill with a small group of tight ends. He participates in the punishment of push-ups when one of them jumps offsides.
Later, Jones enters the stance he's well adapted to by now, the one he exploded out of last year to record a team-high eight sacks during Hickman's 9-2 season. His fingers are dug into the turf, and his back is straight enough for a Coke can to rest safely upon it. He's like an arrow pulled back, ready to be released.
It's preparation time for Friday night's home opener against Lee's Summit North. It's another season at the brink.
But to Jones, it is not just any other.
"I'm getting really hyped right now, just feeling it's my last year," he said after practice. "There's a lot of tension going on just because it's your last year."
Since he announced his decision for Missouri in March, he's been tagged with the nickname, Mr. Mizzou.
And, since practice began this summer for the Kewpies, he has disdained the nickname.
"A lot of the team, they joke around and call me Mr. Mizzou," said Jones with a half-smile. "I hate when they do that because I just try to focus on where I'm at right now. I'm not there yet."
He returns from his first varsity season as an important cog for a team hoping to capitalize on a 2012 season it finished with a six-place ranking before falling in the district championship.
"You've got some race horses, you know, and then you've got your Seattle Slews. He's that kind of player," Monroe said. "Offensively, he's a playmaker. Defensively, you better block him or it's lights out for somebody."
Also returning for the Kewpies for his senior season is quarterback Mason Murray.
"He's someone you can always rely on because he's such a big target," Murray says of Jones.
He's who Murray looked to with the game on the line and 1 minute, 13 seconds, on the Providence Bowl clock at Faurot Field last year. Near the corner of the end zone, Jones, wrapped by a Rock Bridge defender, juggled the pass and came down with it to secure the 22-21 win. Jones leapt in joy and was engulfed by teammates.
Sometimes, he said, he can't help but feel nagged about what must happen at the end of his high school career.
"I try and focus on Hickman, but it's always in the back of my mind, just what I'm gonna do after the season's over and how I'm gonna get ready," Jones said.
The daylight's gone. Behind him in a parking lot, there are drums and chimes and brass, fading sounds of the marching band.
"I'm just trying to focus on where I'm at," Jones said.