Back to work: Indians, Monarchs open football practice amid a new reality

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays High football coach Tony Crough watches his team practice on Monday evening at Hays High.

While grateful to have his team together and back out on the field, Hays High football coach Tony Crough found it tough to assess just how well the first practice went Monday, considering the circumstances.

Unlike a normal first practice, football wasn’t the sole focus.

With 80 kids practicing Monday, Crough divided his attention between Xs and Os and making sure his players were properly socially distanced when not participating in a drill while also following other safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Crough knows it will take time for the coaches and players to adjust to a new reality.

“We have nothing to compare it to,” Crough said of the first practice. “It’s all just brand new to us. It looked like to us that the kids were kind of looking around like, ’This is weird,’ and it is. It’s a little bit weird, it’s a little bit different. But it’s the reality of where we’re at now and we’re just going to learn how to adapt.

“It’s almost like it doesn’t feel real yet — what the season’s going to look like and what Friday night’s going to like. I think everyone’s got their toe in the water trying to figure it out. I just don’t know if we even know what to expect.”

The same feeling was true over at Thomas More Prep-Marian, where 26 Monarchs were practicing Monday as Jay Harris enters his second year as TMP coach.

Harris said he is telling his players to remain flexible.

“You got to be prepared for anything,” Harris said of the Monarchs, who also followed new safety guidelines for Monday’s practice. “Last year when we let school out (because of the pandemic) it was so unexpected. This year, I think the kids are still feeling that, knowing what that felt like to one day just be told, ’Don’t come to school tomorrow.’ Hopefully, they’ve kind of put that behind them and they’re ready to do what we need to do.”

Hays High is coming off a 4-6 season that saw the Indians capture a Class 5A first-round playoff win against Goddard-Eisenhower.

Noting the Indians were unable to hold their summer team football camp and hadn’t done many football activities since the pandemic, Crough said it will take some time for his team to get back up to speed.

The Indians now have two voids in their schedule after news broke Tuesday afternoon that members of the Greater Wichita Athletic League would not play non-league game this season. Hays was scheduled to open the season Sept. 4 at Wichita East and was slated to play a home game against Wichita Northwest in Week 8.

Crough said Monday that it can be hard to block out the cloud of uncertainty that hovers over the 2020 season. Fall sports has been canceled for several school in the Kansas City, Kansas area. Three schools in Stafford County have shut down fall sports practices. Ellsworth will be unable to play its scheduled football opener after a player tested positive for the virus, and Salina Central temporarily suspended football practice after a positive case for a player.

“It’s tough for us coaches,” Crough said. “We’re in there talking, ’Hey, did you see what happened to Ellsworth, look at Central’ and all that stuff — Stafford County now. We have to remind ourselves, ’Guys, we’ve got to stop taking about that.’ Because our kids see it and they feel it.

“It’s tough. You got that constant cloud of almost, ’When’s the ball going to drop?’ ”

However, Crough said, he’s trying to get his team to think positive and appreciate every chance they get to take the field.

“We have to remind ourselves that we’re lucky to be out here each and every day, and it could be the last so you might as well enjoy it,” he said.

Harris is also telling his Monarchs to remain optimistic.

“All the kids are always asking: ’With colleges not playing, are we still going to play?’ Oh yeah, we’re going to play,” he said.

“There’s still some uncertainty that might come into a week. If the school has a bunch of kids that are sick, then we wouldn’t play. But right now, everything is a go and that feels really good.”

The Monarchs went 3-6 last year, winning their last two games. Harris expects the roster to rise to 29 players when TMP’s international students arrive.

TMP is scheduled to open against Oakley on Sept. 4 at Lewis Field Stadium.

TMP-Marian football coach Jay Harris looks on during the Monarchs' first practice Monday evening.