Oak Grove running back Aaron Graham described the first day of football practice as one of the best feelings of the year. That's because it was a much-needed day for the Oak Grove Panthers — an afternoon to mark the beginning of the path to redemption.
By SAM MCDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
For the last nine months, Oak Grove has been stuck with the memory of the way the 2012 season ended — a loss at home to Center that spoiled the previously-unbeaten Panthers' Missouri Class 3 state championship hopes.
On Friday, a new season awaits.
"I think our kids went through the off-season with that in the back of their minds," coach Pat Richard said. "I think that burns at our kids. They worked this off-season like it did. We had the best off-season I've seen as a coach. I think last year burns on them."
Oak Grove is equipped to carry out some payback. The Panthers return eight starters on both offense and defense.
Graham, a junior, gained 1,837 yards and scored 23 touchdowns last season. He has the luxury of running behind a bulky offensive line featuring senior Skyler Hulse, a returning all-state player who will also play on the defense line.
In addition to Hulse, the defense returns linebackers Tanner Kanak and Ethan Fugitt, a pair of players Richard labels as "weight-room freaks."
"We've got some athletic kids, but more than that we've got kids who understand that we can be great if they will do the work — and they've done the work," Richard said. "I think we're tougher than we were a year ago. It's a different attitude. This is going to be a gritty team, and we like that."