Braves usher in 2005 season at the stroke of midnight
The state of Texas made Friday night lights famous in the high school football world.
But this year in Bonner Springs, it's Sunday night lights that count.
On a night that saw coaches and players arrive with the same sparkle in their eyes, the Bonner Springs High School football team hit the field for the first day of fall practices at the first possible second.
As the clock struck midnight, late Sunday night, the Braves strolled onto the field one-by-one, ready to usher in the 2005 football season.
"I feel like I'm in college," junior Anthony Brown said with a smile as bright as the lights that shined high above David Jaynes Field. "I've been waiting for this for a long time, since the end of last year. I'm ready to hit someone."
Technically, the heavy hitting didn't start until later in the week, as the Kansas State High School Activities Association rules prohibit teams from wearing pads for the first three days of practice.
But, as with any time you get a group of football players on the field under the lights, there was certainly a solid amount of light-hearted contact.
That was about all that was light-hearted, though. When BSHS coach Lew Kasselman blew his whistle at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 15, the players hit the field with reckless abandon.
The intensity the Braves showed during the first 30 minutes of practice rivaled that of any practice all of last year. The coaches made sure of that.
"It's time to get in shape, right now," one coach barked during individual drills. "No more third-quarter tiredness."
"We gotta tackle better, boys," another emphasized. "We didn't tackle well at all last year."
All reminders of a 2004 season that went terribly wrong and ended with a 1-8 record.
But this year, this group of players promises to make things different.
"We're out here to erase what happened last year," senior wide receiver Blake Kasselman said. "And tonight I've been pretty impressed. We were rolling along in camp (in late July) and it seems that we picked up right where we left off. I don't remember us being as ready for the first practice as we seem to be tonight."
The idea for a midnight practice -- the first of its kind during the Lew Kasselman era at BSHS -- came from the players. This year's Braves -- particularly the seniors -- envisioned starting this season off on a different foot and the excitement of a late night practice under the lights was just what the doctor ordered.
"We've been doing it the same way for so many years now," Blake Kasselman said. "We just wanted to change it up."
The early returns on the idea demonstrated that it worked.
"This is awesome," sophomore tailback Tyler Jock said. "It really gets you in the mood to play football. It feels just like a game night out here."
After 45 minutes of routine warm-up drills and stretching, the Braves dove right into offensive and defensive scheme work. Much to the delight of Coach Kasselman, the team's effort and intensity remained throughout, as the team worked until 2:15 a.m.
"I was real pleased with the effort and the way we practiced," Kasselman said. "Our effort was terrific. I told the guys at the end of camp that when the first practice rolled around we were going to pick up right where we left off, and I really thought we did that."
A few pre-practice endeavors might have added to the intensity. For a couple of hours Sunday evening, Kasselman and the majority of his team watched a video chronicling the ups and downs of a high school football team in Texas that won 57 straight games and four state titles in a five-year stretch.
Kasselman said the point of the video was to emphasize to his players the importance of attitude and handling adversity, as well as to inspire a little spark before the first practice.
It seemed to work, and the entire BSHS coaching staff was impressed with the way the team showed up to the first practice. The trick now is for Kasselman and his staff to convince his players to bring that same effort day in and day out.
"Our bar is set really high," Kasselman said. "Our expectations are high and so is our accountability. It's team first, me second for us this year. And I thought our first practice showed that this team is willing to operate that way."
As for the flare of opening the season under the lights in the wee hours of the morning, Kasselman said the atmosphere got his blood pumping a little more than usual, as well.