As glimpses of the sun peeked over the trees surrounding the Collegiate football field Monday morning, sophomore Sutton Carder walked onto the turf. The primary illumination came from the orange lights of the scoreboard, which was set by coach Mike Gehrer when he arrived at 5:30 a.m.
The time on the scoreboard, 20:14, never changed.
Being the first to arrive for the Spartans’ first practice of the 2014 season wasn’t Carder’s goal, but he used the time to warm up a bit as the stadium lights blinked on at 6:02 a.m.
Forty minutes later, Collegiate was well into its first practice, with coaches urging energy during hitting drills.
Monday was the first day that high schools across Kansas were allowed to start practicing for the fall sports seasons, which include football, boys soccer, girls golf, girls tennis, cross country and volleyball. It’s a highly anticipated day, which is why some schools, such as Garden Plain and Arkansas City, started at 12:01 a.m.
The excitement was just as high at Collegiate.
“This is what it’s all about,” said Gehrer, who walked around holding his schedule, which is planned down to the minute.
Collegiate, which doesn’t start school until Wednesday, has three practices scheduled for Monday, with a breakfast set for the time off between the two morning practices. Then there’s the planned trip for bowling and an afternoon practice that Gehrer plans to shorten due to the heat.
Temperatures this week are expected to be in the high 90s, which is one of the hottest stretches of the summer. Coaches have been encouraging their athletes to drink water and stay away from pop.
Many Wichita-area schools, including City League teams, start practice after school ends. The City League has a heat plan that it follows based on the combination of temperature and humidity.
Due to Monday’s conditions, the City League was in Zone 3, which allows two hours of practice. If there are two practices, no more than 90 minutes for either practice with a minimum of an hour rest time.
The Kansas State High School Activities Association allows coaches to work with their players for most of the summer, so athletes have been to team camps and already run many of the drills coaches have planned for practices.
But the first day of the season’s practice is different. It’s when the coaches and athletes – and even fans, who come out to watch – truly feel like their quest for a state title is moving forward.
Sixteen Collegiate football players were so excited about the upcoming practice that they planned to spend Sunday night at midfield, on the blue-and-gold Spartan helmet. At 10 p.m. they had their blankets and pillows spread out on the field’s logo, and Jalen Skar had brought toaster pastries for breakfast, while Kyler Ehm was planning a fast-food trip for a late-night snack.
The plan was to talk and bond.
“We’re a big family, and we’re trying to build a bigger brotherhood,” senior Kyler Ehm said Sunday night.
“We’re just coming out to have some fun, right before our first practice,” senior Jaques Williams said. “Have some team bonding, and wake up bright and early for our first practice.”
The anticipation of the first practice is only matched by the thrill of the first day of being able to practice in pads, which is Thursday.
The Spartans’ plan to wake up when Gehrer turned the stadium lights on was foiled when a thunderstorm rolled through at about 12:40 a.m. More than half stayed the night at Jack Larsen’s house, which is near Collegiate.
“I only got about 3 ½ hours of sleep,” said senior Jack Copher, one of the first players to arrive for practice. “It’s still a great way to kick start the year.”
Thirty minutes into practice, the 53 players, wearing shorts, T-shirts and helmets, were scattered across the field doing various drills. The running backs worked on agility as they carried the football, while receivers ran routes and the offensive linemen did blocking drills. The only sounds were the coaches yelling instructions and encouragement.
It was a scene that will play out many times through the course of the football season.