As the sun sank behind a distant hill on Monday, the distant sound of a whistle became music to the ears for young men clad in football helmets and mesh jerseys. Upon the whistle’s order they sprinted to the center of a freshly manicured field, dropped to a knee and listened as their coach assessed the day.
Those whistles could be heard all over the state of Missouri as summer break officially ended for thousands of athletes on Monday as the first day of official practices kicked off for high school sports.
In other words: Game on.
It was the dawning of a new era for the 65 young men assembled on the football practice field at Neosho High School in more ways than one, as they listened to coach Dustin Baldwin assess his first official practice since being named Wildcats head football coach during the offseason. The practice, he felt, went well.
“The effort we gave today was great,” Baldwin said. “That’s what it’s going to take for us to make this program a consistent winning program. It was exciting to see kids working hard and paying attention. Mentally, they were just really focused in on what we were doing.”
Perhaps a series of summer camps put on by Baldwin and the NHS staff had a lot to do with the crispness on the field Monday. Regardless, Baldwin says he’s seen some encouraging things from his team so far.
“It’s been a good summer,” he said. “We’ve had some good days and some bad days — I can’t say every day has been perfect — but we’ve had some real good moments, and some down moments. That’s part of it whenever you’re putting in some new things — (success is) not going to happen overnight. I think as long as our attitude is good and we’re consistent here and putting in the effort, it’s going to be good.”
Per new MSHSAA guidelines designed to help players better acclimate to the heat, players weren’t allowed to wear shoulder pads on the first day of practice as they have in previous seasons. Players were still allowed, however, to wear helmets in the no-contact practices, and will not be allowed to wear shoulder pads for the first time until Wednesday. They’ll be allowed fully padded uniforms and can commence hitting on Saturday when the Wildcats host their annual Black & Gold scrimmage at 7:20 p.m. at Bob Anderson Stadium.
Baldwin added that while there were 65 players on hand for Monday’s practice — including 28 freshmen — he’s hopeful those numbers are going to increase in the near future.
Page 2 of 2 - “Our numbers are better,” he said in comparison to summer camp attendance. “We still would love to see another 10 or 15 kids come out. I know of a couple more planning to play that aren’t here yet.
“I feel like a school our size we’re shooting for a minimum of 75 (players) and right now we’re at 65. We love our freshmen and their numbers, so we need to keep their numbers up and keep adding to them. It will only help our program in the long run.”
Following the Black & Gold scrimmage on Saturday, the Wildcats will travel to Springfield Parkview High School for their jamboree on Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. before kicking off the regular season on the road at Bolivar on Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.