Football preview: First-year Kelly Hawks ready to hit the field
BENTON -- Kelly head coach Kenneth Riedinger remembers the first game as a junior varsity team two years ago. He remembers a play that resulted in a block in the back penalty from the opposite end of the field.
He also remembers the player having no idea what he had done.
"There's been so many things -- I wish I would have wrote them down -- but they didn't understand," Riedinger said. "It was a totally different language to them
Since Kelly's first official junior varsity game, which was a 13-0 loss to Scott City at Kelly High School, Riedinger and his Hawks have been waiting for the chance to play games that matter.
On Friday the Kelly Hawks will play their first official varsity football game at East Prairie which will be a highlight moment for a program that began it's football journey in 2010.
"Kelly has been in a slump as far as boys sports go and we don't want to carry that on," Riedinger said. "We want to make sure in varsity athletics across the board that our kids are working hard in the weight room, that they're skilled and as a football team we feel like we have that obligation first and foremost that we're working and getting better."
Getting to this point has been, of course, challenging. Riedinger, his staff, players and volunteers from the community, have done nearly everything --including sodding and installing a sprinkler system for their home field throughout the process -- to prepare for Friday night.
Riedinger remembers holding 'Football Friday' and 'Touchdown Tuesday' meetings after school to simply explain terminology and fundamentals to his future players. Though it took time for the language to sink in, he feels it's finally starting to catch on with his players.
"We're having conversations about football in a different language now," Riedinger said. "They recognize coverages, they recognize fronts, they're getting to the point where they understand."
Kelly finished with a junior varsity record of 3-5 its first year. At one point, they were undefeated a season ago but finished 5-3. Progression has been solid and the results have shown on the scoreboard, but Riedinger isn't ready to anoint his football team as the best, new team on the block.
"We're going to take our lumps and we know that we're going into this without any experience," he said. "We're not going to blow our own horn before it gets started. We've got a lot to prove and we understand that.
"We don't want to give anybody any newspaper clippings but we set high standards for ourselves," Riedinger added. "We work and prepare very, very hard and when we get off of a bus we feel like we should win a football game. We want to prepare ourselves to win and we want to do that with the best of our ability."
Expected to be at the quarterback position to start Kelly's first game will be sophomore Kyle Fitzgerald. Riedinger has groomed his starting quarterback the past three years mostly trying to get the baseball player to throw a football like a quarterback.
"He's a baseball player and we had to work hard on getting him to throw the football with that 'L' in his arm," Riedinger said. "But we feel like he's going to do really well at it. We talk about it constantly in what we're looking for and what depth we're at as well as footwork. We've been really pleased with him and real proud of him."
Fitzgerald will be running a 'slot T' offense -- the same as what Riedinger used at Kennett High School -- with backfield weapons such as Matt Burford and Dalton Huffman expected to by Kelly's primary rushers.
"He's a good little football player," Riedinger said about Burford. "A lot of people will know his name by the end of the season. And of course Dalton Huffman is a school record holder and has went to state in the triple jump, high jump and went in the 4x100 this year finishing seventh.
"We're going to surprise some people with our athletes," Riedinger added. "To have that kind of speed for our school is surprising."
The offense is based to stay the same as far as look goes, but execute a wide array of plays from that same set. A tactic Riedinger says his team has grasped well so far.
"Our kids have taken hold of it and we have the right kind of kids for it," Riedinger said. "We're not going to give our gameplan away but we've progressed quite a bit. What we try to do is get real good at something and give you a whole bunch of different looks at doing it."
Although the preparation to this point has been about learning the game and figuring out how to properly run offenses and defenses, the real victory for Riedinger won't be one brought on by a scoreboard.
"We want to show the world how hard we've worked," Riedinger said. "We want to show southeast Missouri that we've worked our rear ends off. We've lifted, we've ran, we've done everything to try and get better at football. It means a lot to our community and we're going to do our best to compete."
The Hawks have decided to also dedicate their inaugural season to their former teammate Kaden Robert. Robert was tragically killed during a firearm accident in the parking lot of Kelly High School in late June.
"He was an every down starter for us," Riedinger said. "He is our fallen brother and we'd like to dedicate our season to him."
Kickoff for Kelly's first game against East Prairie will be at 7 p.m.