If any of the coaches and players still used calendars, Aug. 12 is a date that certainly would have been circled.
Nearly nine months since their historical postseason run came to an end, the Joplin Eagles football team hit the practice field for the first time on Monday evening at Joplin High School in preparation for the upcoming 2019 season.
“It’s exciting to finally get back out there,” Joplin head coach Curtis Jasper said. “You do so much work in the summertime, and you're trying to get so much done, that when (the first practice) is finally here for real, you get goosebumps.”
“The team is really excited this year coming off of last season,” Joplin senior quarterback Blake Tash said. “Last season didn’t end the way we wanted it to, that’s why this year’s team motto is ‘Unfinished Business.’ We know how far we made it last year, and we want to take that extra step this season.”
The Eagles are coming off a 10-3 season, a third-place finish in the team’s first taste of the Central Ozark Conference and an appearance in the Class 6 Football State Tournament semifinals — a feat that had never happened before in the school’s history.
Monday marked the start of the new campaign. The Eagles have a roster littered with more than 20 seniors, with each of them ready to get back on the gridiron.
“It felt like this offseason took forever to pass,” Tash said with a smile. “The seniors are just itching to get out here. There is a lot of leadership on this team all over the field, and that’s what we want to pass off to these younger guys who are going to continue to build this program up after we are gone.”
“Our expectations are really high coming off of last season,” Joplin senior safety Elijah Eminger said. “The senior class is holding everyone accountable, making this our team. We are trying to bring everyone else up to our level to make sure we are all prepared.”
While it goes without saying that the excitement level for the team’s coaches and players is at an all-time high, the same could be said for the community, which had a chance to wrap its arms around the Eagles last season during the historical season.
“That run last season is something that is special for a town like this,” Jasper said. “Last year was the first opportunity the community, since Parkwood and Memorial combined, really had to embrace this team. It didn’t matter where they graduated from, they were celebrating the success of Joplin’s football team. That support continued this offseason.”
“It meant a lot to us last season, coming out to packed stands and seeing everyone on their feet cheering for us,” Eminger said. “It just showed us that we are doing things the right way, and the community has our back because of it.”
Joplin will be in helmets for two days before the shoulder pads are strapped on for a three-day period. The Eagles will be in full pads for the first time during the Red/White Scrimmage, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday at Junge Field.
“The intensity for everything increases each day,” Jasper said. “You only have so many days before the first scrimmage and so many days before the jamboree, and before you know it, you are in preparation for Week 1. … We are going to make the most of each of these practices leading up to the season.”
“These first few practices mean a lot,” Eminger said. “We accomplished a lot over the summer, and now we are out here ready to get to work. We are making sure everyone is out here doing their jobs so that we can be successful when the season comes.”