WEBB CITY, Mo. — When the middle of August arrives each year in Southwest Missouri, two things are usually a given — the weather is going to be hot and the Webb City High School football program will have large numbers.

Nearly 150 athletes participated in Webb City’s first practice of the 2019 prep football season on a sweltering Monday afternoon in the grass near Cardinal Stadium.

Longtime Webb City coach John Roderique said he expects to have anywhere between 140 to 150 athletes on this year’s roster.

So how does a school the size of Webb City routinely have such large numbers year after year?

“I think kids like to be associated with things that are bigger than themselves,” Roderique said. “We have a lot of great kids here and the kids are passionate about football and they’re passionate about our program. And they love to compete in everything they do.”

Roderique noted the enthusiasm surrounding the opening day of practice never gets old.

“It’s always exciting to get started,” said Roderique, who owns an impressive 273-25 record at his alma mater. “There’s always excitement and we’re always optimistic.”

The first day of fall camp featured temperatures in the low-90s, with a heat index of above 100 degrees. The practice was held in the late afternoon due to the fact that the district had teacher meetings in the morning and open houses in the evening.

“It was a little warm, but our kids handled it very well,” Roderique said.

Webb City is coming off a memorable 2018 season that saw the team record 13-straight victories before a loss to eventual state champion Ladue in the Class 4 semifinals.

The Cardinals return eight players with starting experience and 50 lettermen this fall.

“We’re definitely optimistic about this group,” Roderique said. “We have a number of guys who have some experience and who have several years in our program.”

Webb City hosts a jamboree on Aug. 23 and begins the season at Carl Junction one week later.

“Right now, it’s a sprint to the first game,” Roderique said. “How much can you do to get ready for the first game? We want to be as good as we can by Week 1, but we know it’s just a starting point. We’ve always had a philosophy in our program that we should never be as good in our first game as we are in our last game.”