At some point during the offseason, Blue Springs lineman Daniel Parker Jr. printed a picture of his reaction to losing last year’s Missouri Class 6 state championship. Parker says he is crying in the photo, which he has since taped to his bedroom wall, directly above his bed. He looks at it daily.
“It’s kind of a nightmare, you know?” Parker said. “I think about that a lot. I put it on my wall just to make sure I don’t let that happen again.”
The process of moving on toward a second chance — a final chance for Parker, a senior who recommitted to Missouri last week — began the day after Blue Springs lost to Kirkwood in the title game. Weightlifting programs. Training sessions. Film work.
But on a more official level, it commenced Monday, when Blue Springs and other Missouri high schools gathered for their first practices of the season. It was an atypically mild-weather final day of July — briefly interrupted by morning rain showers — for local programs accustomed to starting practice in extreme temperatures.
The vast majority of Missouri high school football teams open their schedules on Aug. 18. It’s a countdown the Wildcats enacted long ago.
“Eighteen days,” Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe said to his players at the conclusion of a three-hour practice Monday morning. “Then we get after it.”
Several starters remain from last year’s runner-up finish. In fact, many are set to start for a third straight season.
The 2018 graduating class has long been a focal point for Blue Springs, dating back three or four years. The Wildcats were young in 2015, starting several sophomores, which is uncharacteristic of Donohoe-led teams.
Two years later, the Wildcats can longer claim to be young. They are projected to start exclusively seniors on the 11-man defense and at least eight more seniors on offense.
“Our class is really tight-knit,” said senior quarterback Chase Donohoe, the son of the head coach. “We’ve all been waiting for senior year. We’ve all been talking about it (being) our last chance to get a crack at a state title. We’re all motivated for another chance.”
Especially Chase Donohoe, who opened 2016 as the starting quarterback before breaking a bone in his heel, ending his season after the schedule was only halfway completed.
“Just watching your team lose a state championship when you can’t do anything about it — that’s tough,” Chase Donohoe said. “That’s why we’re excited for another run.”
It’s stuck with him, too. Just as it has his teammates.
Kelly Donohoe said he doesn’t often bring up last year’s finish. But he acknowledged that with a talented team, he may have to get creative with his motivational tactics.
He has an obvious option.
“Sometimes as a coach when you have a team like this, your biggest challenge is just keeping them ready to compete,” Donohoe said. “This is a group that’s really grown up the last two years, and that’s something we’re really excited about. But it can also make you nervous because you don’t want to waste it.”