When Free State High football coach Bob Lisher scanned the field at the Firebirds’ varsity camp this week, he noticed three common characteristics among his returning players.
They were bigger. They were stronger. And they were more comfortable on the field.
All were highly positive signs for FSHS as it prepped for its three-day weekend trip to Northwest Missouri State University, in Maryville, Mo., for a team camp.
Lisher said the experienced Firebirds played a bit faster than they did last fall.
“When you do that,” the coach said, “you’re a better football player.”
Free State’s core of returning varsity players includes six who received All-Sunflower League honors of one form or another: defensive back and quarterback Kyle McFarland, lineman Cody Stanclift, defensive back Joe Dineen, receiver Tye Hughes and linebackers Corban Schmidt and Blake Winslow.
Joining those players in more prominent roles, Lisher said, have been running back TJ Cobbs, linemen Reid Buckingham, Tyler Sampson and Fred Wyatt, receivers Sam Hearnen and Chris Heller and linebacker Keith Loneker.
Lisher liked the quick pace his veteran players established at camp due to their familiarity with the play-calling. Monday through Thursday served as a review for the many rising seniors and juniors who played on Friday nights last season.
“It’s like our spring football,” Lisher said of the four-day on-campus camp, noting the goals were to stay healthy and improve as a team.
Dineen said there were many positive signs at camp. Primarily, Free State’s experience showed.
“We look like we understand what we’re doing, the concepts of the plays and stuff,” Dineen said.
The idea of a bigger, stronger, more-confident bunch of Firebirds, McFarland added, is evident at all positions.
“We had kind of a small line last year, and now the players we have are a lot bigger,” McFarland said, noting Stanclift, Wyatt and others have led that group.
Lisher said Cobbs never missed a day of offseason strength or speed workouts and that was paying dividends for the senior.
Cobbs remained eager to show off his hard work at a more critical time.
“It’s good if you can lift a lot of weights,” he said, “but if you can’t perform well on the field on game night, it doesn’t really matter.”
For the underclassmen who haven’t experienced Friday-night pressure, Cobbs said camp week showed them how hard they will have to work to get on the field. Schmidt agreed and said the veterans told their young teammates they would have to jump in as often as possible during drills if they wanted to improve.
“They just have to pay attention for the most part,” Schmidt said. “The sooner you learn the plays, the more it just comes together with repetition.”
After going 6-3 in 2011 and having so many leaders back and playing at a higher level, Lisher said the next step is building upon the team’s offseason improvements this summer and carrying those over into the fall.
“If we do,” he said, “we’ll have a chance to be a decent, competitive football team.”
Team camp for FSHS at Northwest Missouri State began Friday and will continue through today.