WASHINGTON — Today is the day. The first official day of high school football is today when teams are allowed to practice in pads.
The was a lot of debate and a lot of worry but the success of the baseball and softball seasons cast a good healthy light on the playing of sports and football in particular.
The Washington Demons gathered on Friday to be issued gear and have their pictures taken, and just the sight of the uniforms made some more than ready to hit the field.
Senior linebacker Trashaun Willis was an all-state linebacker two years in a row, making third team his sophomore year and second team his junior year.
“So hopefully, it’s first team this year,” Willis said. “That is what I’m going to shoot for.”
His goal for the team is to have a winning season and make it far in the playoffs.
“I know I said something like that last year, but we should make it farther this year,” Willis said. “I think we have the guys and the depth to do it this year.”
The Demons lost 41-10 in the first round at Western Dubuque, who won the Class 3A title 37-17 over Solon.
Solon was in the Washington district last year and has been a thorn in the Demons side, winning the last five games and eight of the last 10. The Spartans are a Class 2A school this season but the Demons will play them in the second game of the season on Sept. 4.
“So they have been check marked on my calendar,” Willis said. “I am just tired of them beating us, standing in our way.”
The Demons had a 20-7 halftime lead last season, but lost 35-20.
“We just could not get it figured out in the second half,” Willis said. “Offense or defense, so hopefully we are going to play a full four quarters against them this year.”
Losing can be a hard lesson learned.
“I feel like we have a lot of ballplayers that can make plays for us this year,” Willis said. “We just have to be more prepared for the game I guess. We learned from what happened in that game, for sure.”
Offered a choice between defeating Solon but having a losing record or having a winning record but losing to Solon, Willis said he would not accept either possibility.
“That’s not happening,” he said. “We have to win at all.”
Wyatt Stout ran for 732 yards last season as a junior and wants to top the 1,000 yard mark this season.
“I’m excited to play Mt. Pleasant again and I want to play Solon,” Stout said. “Solon is a little rivalry with us. We need to give them a little payback.”
Solon did lose their coach, who retired.
I got a coach from Anamosa but that “Kevin Miller was a Hall of Famer and I just have so much respect for him,” Washington head coach James Harris said. “Solon has certainly got us the past couple of years so we just want to do our best when we play them.”
There is another team whose rivalry with the Demons is much deeper and longer, but Washington has the upper hand against Mt. Pleasant.
Last year’s home game against the Panthers was an instant classic with Washington winning 64-61 on a touchdown in the last minute. The Panthers have lost nine straight to the Demons with the last win in 2008.
For senior starting offensive guard Kael Adam, Mt. Pleasant is the most important game. It is also a district game. It will be at Mt. Pleasant Oct. 2.
“I think the most important thing for us is to make the state playoffs,” Adam said. “The game I most like to win is Mount Pleasant, then Solon, I guess.”
Adam knows all the hard work will be worth it,
“I really like going to practice every day and seeing that reward for us on Friday night,” he said.
For Coach Harris, the most important game is not Solon or Mt. Pleasant.
“I can’t pick out a game on the schedule and circle it and say that’s the one we need,” Harris said. “The next game is the most important game so right now, it’s the first game we play.”
That would be Aug. 28 at home against Marion.
“I have high expectations for this team but you can only win them one game at a time,” Harris said.
Jacob Miller was a return specialist last year as a sophomore. He knows that however a victory is achieved over a rival, it has to be won together.
“To get to our goals, we have to play as a team,” Miller said. “If we do that, then the wins will happen. We want to get the championship.”
Zayne Laws was a force on the defensive line last year with 7.5 tackles for loss, but an injury curtailed his effectiveness. He returns as a leader on that side of the ball.
“Being a leader is a lot to take in,” Laws said. “I’ve got to let my play show for me. I know I have to be more vocal this year.”
Regardless of wins and losses, there is something deeper and more important to Coach Harris about what a successful season is.
“We just want these guys to learn the value of hard work,” the coach said. “We want them to know what it means to be committed to something. We want to see them be a part of a team. We want to see them grow as young men regardless of athletics.”