For the first time, Rose Hill opened its football season as the defending Class 4A champion.
Yet nothing was different at 5:45 a.m. Monday when Rose Hill had its first practice of the season. Other than some bleary eyes and not much talking, Rose Hill opened practice with warmups – high-knee lifts, skipping, tackling techniques.
“At first it was like, this is way too early for practice,” senior Colton Mayes said. “But then I was like, this is definitely worth it because we’re ready to get going and start the year off.”
Monday was the first day all fall sports across the state could practice.
The only football gear the Kansas State High School Activities Association allows football players to wear is helmets. On Thursday they can wear pads.
The Rose Hill players, who open their season Aug. 31 at Buhler, are fully aware of their status as defending champs.
“It definitely sets us apart and sets us out there as someone to beat,” senior quarterback TJ Slade said. “When people look at us – ‘they’re the 4A champs from last year and we have to beat them.’ We have a target on our back. We’ll have to go out there and put it to the other teams and show them we can contend for the state championship again.”
That focus is what drove the Rockets to work in the offseason.
“We’re still working hard, trying to get back to where we were last year,” senior Cody Walther said. “We lost a few guys, but we’ll make up for it.”
For coach Greg Slade, he has been urging his team to move forward since spring. He doesn’t want them to be living like this is 2011.
He’s adamant that the Class 4A title is in the past.
“Right now, our main concern is our first game against Buhler,” Slade said. “That’s a tough opponent. Yeah, we’re coming off a state championship, but we have to move on. That was last year. We’ve got a different team, different attitude.
“We have to move on. They’ve done a good job of doing that. We’re concentrating on being 1-0 for their first game. Our concern was to fill the holes from last year. A lot of the kids worked really hard, some of the younger ones matured. Those are some of the things we needed to have happen.
About an hour into the morning practice – Rose Hill was slated to have an afternoon practice, as well – Slade, who had been walking from one group to another, started working with some linemen.
“You have to step this way,” he said. “Because if he slants, you have to help. Come on! We’re doing Buhler stuff.”
Shortly after 7 a.m., the coaches gathered at midfield and then the defense donned blue mesh jerseys over their Rose Hill T-shirts.
“It felt good,” TJ Slade said. “Our routes were sharp and we were catching the ball pretty good and running the ball pretty good.”
As practice neared its conclusion at about 7:20 – a short practice so the coaches could attend teacher inservice – the players ran to a huddle, shouting, "whooooo!"
While the first practice was finished, it was just the beginning.