COLUMBIA — The football hurtled through the air, leaving the hands of junior starting quarterback Carter Nicoli. Seconds later, it found itself in another pair of hands, those of senior running back Cameron Wright, who sprinted toward the end zone, avoiding white jerseys.
A booming voice emerged from the sidelines.
"Great look!" Hickman High School head football coach Arnel Monroe shouted. "Great look!"
After several unsuccessful and uncoordinated plays during practice Tuesday, the Hickman offense finally seemed to get things together.
The Kewpies have been practicing for two weeks now. This season, concentration lies on rebuilding a young team and bouncing back from a 3-6 season.
Hickman lacked consistency on both sides of the ball last season, and never won consecutive games.
"We have to be consistent as a team," offense coordinator Atah Knighten said. "It starts with being on practice on time, running and conditioning."
Of all the elements of the game the Kewpies can improve and focus on, there's one thing the team can't change: its youth. Monroe said the team has 15 seniors — half the usual amount. The opening of Battle High School last year slashed the roster.
"We're rebuilding our numbers," Monroe said. "Our biggest change is the youth and the lack of experience."
Nicoli will step into the leading role for the first time. In order to prepare him for quarterback, the team throws multiple defensive looks at him. He also watches game films, trains with new quarterbacks coach Bo Abbott, and works on building chemistry with wide receivers and running backs.
"I am trying to push my teammates and make everyone accountable," Nicoli said. "When we're doing good, I push them to do better."
Adding support for Nicoli, a trio of running backs make up Hickman's backfield. Knighten described running backs juniors Elijah Crum, Adam Knowles and Wright as players who are "big and fast, and like to pound it."
In addition to their weekday practices, Crum and Wright work on footwork during weekends at Stankowski Field at MU.
Running backs coach De'Vion Moore, who enters his second year coaching at Hickman, said the players need to be confident in Hickman's run-heavy style.
He also said he makes sure the players stay positive and recognize it's a mental game just as much as a physical one.
Moore said his experiences as a running back at Missouri from 2007-2011 help him better connect with Hickman's running backs.
Last year, Moore said the Kewpies had a strong running game, averaging nearly 190 rushing yards per game in the regular season. But the team loses running back Justise Keith, who rushed for an average of 96 yards last season. He now plays at Northern Iowa and was recognized as a Class 6 Central Missouri All-District running back in his senior season.
Even though the running backs get the spotlight, Moore said it would be obsolete if it weren't for the leadership and strength of the offensive line.
"People don't take into consideration that running the ball needs protection up front," Moore said.
The offensive line is also fine-tuning their own techniques, such as steps and pad leverage, offensive line coach Craig Seymour said.
Hickman will scrimmage at Rock Bridge High School as part of the Jamboree on Friday at 7 p.m. The Kewpies' will kick off the season against Christian Brothers College High School at 7 p.m. next Friday in St. Louis.
Supervising editor Raymond Howze.