In the minutes after high school football players broke their last huddle on this Monday afternoon in mid-August, Bishop Miege senior quarterback Carter Putz followed his teammates off the field at Dixon Doll Stadium like nothing could shake him.
There didn’t appear to be any pressure weighing down his shoulders — neither the pressure to take his already prolific career one step further (he’s six touchdowns and 2,700 yards shy of all-time state records) nor the pressure to win a fourth straight Class 4A-Division I title.
A little over two weeks from now, Miege will open the season here against Eastern Kansas League rival Blue Valley, the only team that handed Miege a loss in a 12-1 championship season.
Yet for Putz, a 5-11, 189-pound third-year starter with a 24-2 career record, this first day back from a one-month hiatus felt no different to him.
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“You see a bunch of hate on Miege and it kind of fuels us to keep working hard. We feel that we do everything correct,” Putz said. “You try not to think about it too much. (The significance of the season has) hit me a little bit, but I’m just ready to have another good season with my teammates.”
Miege hasn’t practiced on the field as a full team since July 14, but throughout Monday’s nearly three-hour session, no one ever seemed to slog through the motions.
“I think some of our guys are faster,” coach Jon Holmes said. “I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t seen them on a field in a while but everybody seems to have a little extra step. I think you’re always going to get that early and hopefully we can keep that going.”
Which was why Holmes found himself calling out some of Blue Valley’s formations during an 11-on-11 drill toward the end of the afternoon.
“We want them to know we know what’s coming,” Holmes told the team then, explaining the “pistol” play that gave Blue Valley an edge in last year’s matchup.
Sure, there are still a few gaps Miege has left to fill. Its offensive line is young, with senior Jack Burns and junior Josh Meurer the only returning starters. The receiving corps, which graduated players such as Jafar Armstrong and Landry Weber, is untested and in the middle of a seven-way battle.
This season is the first in a while where Miege will have to change its playbook.
Yet, there were moments Monday when it didn’t seem like anyone needed to be replaced at all.
“We’ve had mistakes but they learn quickly how to correct those,” Putz said. “We had a bunch of seniors last year that were our leaders and they really set the standard high for us. But we have a bunch of underclassmen and younger players that got a bunch of work in last year and they’re ready to step up the plate and fill in those roles.”
For a team aiming for a fourth straight run at a championship trophy, switching gears is a welcome development.
“I think it’d be huge for us,” Holmes said. “I don’t think very many teams have done it. It’s hard to do. I know Hutchinson has done it, Olathe North has done it, Lawrence did it way back, Smith Center has done it. It’s hard to do just because of the pressure on the kids. We try to keep it as loose as we can with our guys. I tell people let the pressure be on us as a staff and let the kids just go out and play. Hopefully we can keep doing that.”