Wildfire smoke choked the area on Tuesday. With the air quality index over 200, the Spokane Indians were forced to cancel the first game of their homestand against Hillsboro.
But the skies cleared on Wednesday and the first day of high school football practice across Eastern Washington went off without a hitch – for the established and new programs.
“I’ve been looking at the weather app a lot to see when the rain would wash (the smoke) out,” Gonzaga Prep coach Dave McKenna said. “It was a huge relief (Wednesday) morning when I woke up really early and saw that it was clear.”
McKenna’s Bullpups are expected to be one of the top teams in the Greater Spokane League and the state 4A ranks this season. He was as excited as his players to get on the field.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Being outside, coaching the kids. The start of the football season. It was awesome for coaches and kids alike.”
After the events of the past 18 months, McKenna felt – at least for one day – that things were back to normal.
“Totally normal, felt great just to be outside and experiencing some normal high school football,” he said.
As for play on the field, McKenna has senior leadership on both sides of the ball – reigning GSL Offensive Most Valuable Player Ryan McKenna and defensive lineman Kaz Melzer, a Division I recruit who missed most of last season due to injury.
“There’s a lot on Ryan this year since we lost so much of our offensive starters,” McKenna said. “But he’s started two-plus years now and is going on his third year so he has that leadership and that knowledge of the offense. It’s a real bonus for us.
“Defensively, we have eight guys coming back for us this year and it really helps to have Kaz back full time, Ephraim Watkins back full time.”
In the Valley, coach Dave Myers put his new Ridgeline Falcons through their paces in the first football practice in the history of the school.
“We had a great first day of practice. Really good turnout,” Myers said. “Our kids were super coachable. They’re excited, they’re really responsive and worked great together. Our coaches did a wonderful job with them. We had a great up-tempo practice. It didn’t feel like a first day.”
Myers said he had “more than 80” players dressed for the first practice. Ridgeline won’t have any seniors on the squad in its first year of existence. Myers said there are “a handful” of juniors and the bulk of his team will be made up of sophomores and “one or two” ninth-graders.
“We are going to be young,” he said. “We’ll have some kids that are young playing. But we are really lucky that we have some really talented young kids.”
Starting a program from scratch isn’t easy, but things went as smoothly as possible on the first day.
“Everyone kind of played their role, played their part, and we had a great natural practice,” he said. “It didn’t feel like a first day – we weren’t teaching everything like it was brand-new.
“We had a decent spring and that carried over. We had a lot of kids in the weight room all summer, so they were pretty familiar with the routines that we go through to warm up. From there we have really good coaches, guys that can adapt really easily and who understand the rhythm we want on offence and defense and special teams.”
Myers said there was no problem motivating the first team in school history.
“They seem to be pretty excited about that,” he said. “I’m really excited about that for them. I think it’s pretty special to get to be this kind of brand-new unit and go through opening this school.
“They get to be the first football team. They get to be the first ones to establish our legacy, establish the program. I think they’re really excited about that. It’s creating some unique opportunities.”
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