After an uncharacteristically mild Kansas City summer, the heat came just in time to welcome the Blue Valley football team to the first day of practice.
The Tigers, who are defending Kansas Class 5A state champions, waited until after school Monday to hold the first practice, which added to the intensity.
“We’ve been almost babied practicing in 60-degree weather in team camp, but the heat really comes out and smacks you in the face,” senior offensive lineman AJ Harris said. “Once you get into those long battles during the season when you’re hot and you’re sweaty and don’t know if you can do it, that’s why these practices in the heat when you’re busting your tail really help.”
Not only does the heat take a physical toll, but coach Eric Driskell said it also helps coaches determine more about the mental conditioning level of their athletes going into the season.
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“The heat makes them have to focus a little more and work a little harder,” Driskell said. “The first game could be 100 degrees and we have to be ready for it, so it was good to come out and see where we are.”
That first game will kick off at 7 p.m. on Sept. 5 when Blue Valley faces Shawnee Mission Northwest at the Shawnee Mission North District Stadium.
Blue Valley went 6-3 in the regular season before making a big run in the state tournament. The Tigers defeated Eastern Kansas League foes Bishop Miege and Blue Valley West before edging Salina South 27-26 to take the state title. They finished the season 10-3 and won the program’s sixth state championship.
In addition to the challenge of following a championship season, the Tigers will have to adjust to a new classification, moving to Class 6A. While it will not affect Eastern Kansas League play, which is already a mix between Class 6A, 5A and 4A-1, the Tigers will feel the difference when it comes to the state tournament.
“The step up to 6A isn’t necessarily a challenge, but an opportunity,” Harris said. “A lot of people have said, ‘Oh, Blue Valley is just 5A, they couldn’t do anything in 6A.’ This gives us a chance to prove that we are the best around.”
The Tigers lost a considerable amount of talent from last year’s squad including versatile quarterback and kicker Logan Brettell in addition to running back Chance Nelson and group of linemen. The Tigers still return two on the line however in Harris and Jackson Maase. Harris has already committed to Missouri and is ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the state of Kansas by Rivals.com.
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