There was something in the air Saturday outside the Hickman High School football office.
It wasn’t only the dreary skies and an off-and-on drizzle.
For the Hickman football team, there was a subdued eagerness to begin the season after two 7-7 ties Friday night at Adkins Stadium in Jefferson City.
“We’re trying not to get too hot-headed,” senior quarterback Blake Tekotte said. “We have expectations from last year, but we know that last year’s success came from our chemistry and because we worked hard.”
Friday night’s scrimmage against rival Jefferson City and Holt high schools was limited to 12 plays against each team with the possession starting on the 50-yard line. The test served as a buildup for the Kewpies’ season opener against visiting Lee’s Summit North at 7 p.m. Friday.
“We got some good work in with some quality opponents,” assistant coach Arnel Monroe said Saturday after the team watched Friday night’s film. “Everyone came away (from the scrimmages) healthy, so we’re happy.”
Going into the 2004 season Hickman returns 17 starters from last year’s 8-4 squad. With only 12 seniors graduating from a team that made it to the state semifinals last season, the Kewpies have been able to rely on strong leadership from 23 seniors.
“The guys are really invested in this program as upperclassmen,” Monroe said. “We have some new kids, too, though. I think it’s a good mix of veterans and the more inexperienced guys.”
Returning running back Brandon Kendrick said he and his senior counterparts understand their roles.
“For myself and every other senior, we know how hard it is to be an underclassman,” Kendrick said. “It’s all about team unity.”
It’s that team unity that, according to senior wide receiver/cornerback Cedric Alvis, comes a lot quicker with the amount of experience returning from last year.
“It’s not like we have to get a feel for each other right up until the first game,” Alvis said.
Intangibles aside, the Kewpies’ game experience is evident from the numbers alone. Kendrick and Tekotte combined for 1,583 yards rushing last season, while Tekotte totaled 1,574 yards in the air. On the defensive side, Hickman returns five out of its seven leading tacklers, including leading tackler, Ryan Nesbitt with 126 total tackles.
“It’s nice to have depth at a lot of positions,” Tekotte said. “There’s a lot of competing in practice. It’s more like a game than a practice.”
Despite several statistical leaders returning this fall, Monroe said the coaches know there is still plenty of work to do in preparation of the season opener.
“You can never be too fundamentally sound,” Monroe said. “If a coach tells you he doesn’t have anything to work on for the next week, then he is not really a football coach.”
Hickman boasts a demanding 2004 schedule that features four teams (Rockhurst, Fort Zumwalt West, Blue Springs and Hazelwood East) that reached at least the state quarterfinals last fall. Blue Springs was the Class 6 state champion. Beyond that, the Kewpies end the season playing at district rivals, Rock Bridge and Jefferson City.
Kendrick said he and his teammates understand the challenge ahead of them.
“We just need focus on every opponent each week and not get ahead of ourselves,” Kendrick said.