And it begins

Dion Clisso/PrepsKC

By Dion Clisso PrepsKC Managing Editor
Posted: August 3, 2015 - 5:58 AM

Before the sun was up players ran to the field in Oak Grove. The first day of regular season practice is here and the Panthers enter as a defending Missouri Class 3 champion for the first time in school history.

As the team began its work the early-morning practice signaled that football is back. These days the lines between offseason and season are blurred but there is still something special about the first official day of practice. It means that real games are less than three weeks away and the time to find out if what was done in the offseason carries over to when games count.

For Oak Grove the process of repeating as champion begins but it is as a different team from last year’s squad. The Panthers are in the same boat as most high school football programs. Every season is a new group of seniors, juniors and so on.

Even with losing a talented group from last year, Oak Grove coach Pat Richard likes what his team accomplished during the summer.

“I’m excited and the kids are excited and it’s time to get going now,” Richard said. “The summer was great. I thought we had a great summer. We ended with probably the toughest high intensity that I’ve had in my career where it was a week of work that I’ve never seen kids accomplish and these kids killed it. I’m excited. That got me really excited.

“The thing that we’ve preached with these kids all summer is we are going to have to be tough. We are going to have to be tougher, mentally and physically tougher than the teams that we play and that week went a long way to establishing that.”

While the Panthers got their work in countless teams across the Metro on the Missouri side were doing the same. The first week is more conditioning and heat acclimation than the old-school two-a-days but the intensity could be seen as the team worked through its first set of drills.

Oak Grove enters with the knowledge it’s six games in the postseason will help its younger players and Richard said any time you can make a deep run it helps the entire program.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience and hopefully it will be a multiple time in a lifetime experience,” Richard said. “I think it helped us to have the games we had last year. We had a lot of people get a lot of playing time because we were fortunate to get up early on people and play a lot of people. We bring back not only quite a few starters but we bring back a lot of experience that got into a lot of late games on Friday night. It’s huge. So hopefully when the Friday night lights pop on it won’t be intimidating at all.”

Oak Grove opens its season Aug. 21 when it hosts Holden.