The broiling heat gave away to an autumn-like crispness Saturday morning at McPherson Stadium as huddled-up fans who attended McPherson High’s football scrimmage must have felt like the calendar had been fast-forwarded to November.
Second-year coach Jace Pavlovich, who welcomed the less-than-60-degree temperatures with unbridled enthusiasm, put the Bullpups through the paces as the clock continues to tick down for the season opener on Sept. 2 when Buhler comes to town for a matchup of longtime Class 4A Division I rivals.
The 80-minute scrimmage put a wrap on the first week of practice and Pavlovich gave glowing reviews.
“It was a great week,” he said. “We did a lot of the work in the summer (with team camps and 7-on-7 competitions). There was very new little teaching. Our kids retained a bunch of the stuff they learned this summer. It was more of a polish session than anything else this week.”
The Bullpups are coming off a 5-4 season and have retained better than half of their starters from last year. While not blessed with a lot of size and depth, there is an abundance of quickness and versatility.
“There were a lot of positives on both sides of the ball today,” Pavlovich said. “We're doing some good things defensively and flying around. We have a hard time blocking some of our own guys and we feel like we have some good guys up front offensively.”
Pavlovich knows what a host of his veterans are capable of, but there were a couple of players who caught his eye that maybe before the season hadn’t been included that much in the expectations.
“We know who our (main) guys are and that’s what the summer is for, along with the weight room,” Pavlovich said. “However, there are some guys who impressed us. Michael Mendez is just a physical kid that we’ve got to find a way to get on the field. Luke Thompson, also, he’s one we’ve got to find a place to play him. In that third session he was working over some quality kids.”
Quarterback Casen Hoover is the Bullpups’ unquestioned field leader, but Pavlovich says there’s good competition going on for his understudy.
“For the backup quarterback spot we’ve got a battle going on between Kyler Hoppes and Drew Labertew,” Pavlovich said. “We know what Drew can do, but Kyler is really coming along. We want to throw him into the fire as much as possible. If Kyler can fit into that role, then we can move Drew out to receiver and we can Drew on the field a little more.”
Pavlovich knows from the eye test that he doesn’t have a lot of depth. He cut down the scrimmage from 24 plays each session to 12 as the emphasis was on quality and not quantity.
“Health is a concern,” said Pavlovich, who lost his top running back Austen Hunt for the season back in June during a non-contact play at the Pittsburg State camp. “We want to have our guys ready for Friday nights.”
Top receiver Jack Reifschneider and Gabe Hoover, a sophomore receiver who had a big summer, were held out of Saturday’s scrimmage. More than likely they could be held out for the Bullpup Fall Preview on Friday as they are coming off injuries.
“Jack is near 100 percent, but we know what he’s capable of,” Pavlovich said. “Gabe is getting closer, but we’re going to be pretty cautious with them.”
Fortunately, wide receiver may be the team’s deepest area as there are at least a half-dozen players at those spots.