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Move the Chains: Chris Duderstadt 8/28Photo Credit: Chris Duderstadt

With Week 1 of high school football on the Kansas side set for Friday, I couldn’t be much more excited to start my fourth season with PrepsKC. Whether it’s been with PrepsKC or when I was sports reporting full-time with the Shawnee Dispatch and Lawrence Journal-World, one of my favorite things about the beginning of a new school year has been to see the improvements that athletes make in the offseason.

Sure, it’s exciting to see the top player on the team return and take their game to new heights. But what I really find fascinating is when someone with little or no varsity experience makes an immediate impact at the varsity level. Whether or not they fully realize it, those athletes can change the culture of a program with the example they’re setting.

While my days of being a competitive athlete are well behind me (I ran cross country and track at Shawnee Mission West and Baker University), I learned some valuable lessons each offseason that I still reflect on today. Of course, an offseason for a distance runner looks a lot different than an offseason for any football player. An offseason for a distance runner is essentially just the summer (and winter if you’re not competing in AAU indoor track or collegiate indoor track). And while that offseason includes some much-needed rest, it still includes hundreds of miles to build up a good base for cross country or outdoor track season.

It’s those miles by yourself or maybe with a couple of other teammates during the brutal heat of the summer or freezing cold of the winter that pushes a runner to new PRs. The same goes for football players in their offseason with spending a lot of the time in the weight room, maybe competing in another sport to become a more well-rounded athlete or running routes/going through drills without coaches present. The offseason is when champions are made.

While I did go through some grueling offseasons as a high school and collegiate distance runner, this offseason (since the 2021 high school football season ended) has been the toughest one I’ve ever been through. After battling their respective health issues, my dad died in April and my grandpa died in June. They were no doubt two of my biggest role models, and life without them simply hasn’t been the same.

However, I’ve been blessed to not have gone through this tough offseason alone. My mom has always been the quarterback of the family. No matter what blitz (life challenge) comes her way, she someone escapes it and moves the chains for a first down.

Although I’m an only child, it hasn’t felt like it at all this offseason. I’m lucky that so many of friends are more like brothers and sisters to me. They’re all team players and have been there when I’ve really needed them.

And even though this offseason is finally coming to a close, I know I’ll still need their support throughout this season. One of my favorite Saturday morning traditions the past few years was to call or visit my dad and talk to him about the football game I covered each Friday night. There were few things I enjoyed more than talking about sports with my dad.

Thankfully, many of my friends are also sports nuts like me. While many of them have bigger rooting interests in college and NFL football as opposed to high school football, it’s always fun to see a former Kansas City area high school football star that’s playing in a college or NFL game that I’m watching with my friends. That oftentimes leads to some of the similar high school football conversations that I’ve had with my dad, and the thought of that makes me happy.

Again, I can’t wait to see some of those future college stars and NFL players back under the Friday night lights this fall. But I’m really looking forward to watching those players who have overcome their own challenges this offseason and see what kind of impact they’ll make while getting some of their first varsity reps. Let’s get this season underway so we can see what champions were made this offseason.