LUTHER — Joey Prince wasn't able to attend Luther's first football practice on Tuesday, and if he had, he would have needed to borrow some shoes.
His brand new cleats, purchased for his upcoming senior season with the Lions, were sitting on his bed last week when a wildfire turned much of his family's home into a burned pile of rubble.
Though Prince couldn't be there, the Lions went forward with practice Tuesday morning, on the first official day of football in the state — and that simple act was far from insignificant in a town ravaged by fires over the weekend.
Football in August is normal in a town like Luther. And normal is a good thing right now.
“With school being back in on Thursday, and football getting going, we'll get back to normal again,” first-year Luther head coach Shawn Meek said. “I think the identity of any small town is the school. That's what they have their pride in.
“In order to recover from something like this, people have to get back to normal, get back to consistency, get back to something being regular. To small towns in August, that's school and football.”
Estimates suggest the fires covered over four square miles and more than 50 homes and buildings.
The Lions went through drills on a field covered with spots of black, where fire burned nearly half of the grass in various areas.
It was a scene that touched nearly all of the senses, with the sound of charred grass crunching under players' feet as they ran and the smell of stale smoke drifting through the air.
An errant throw from the quarterback could have easily bounded into an area of torched trees just 20 yards off the sideline. To the north of the football team's practice site, the Luther softball field sat empty, narrowly avoiding fire damage that crept in behind the backstop.
The softball coach, Casey Strahan, lost his home in the fire, and though a game was scheduled for Tuesday, it had to be postponed.
In a town like Luther, with a little more than 1,200 residents, every car you pass on the road is likely carrying someone with a friend or family member affected by the fires — if not directly affected themselves.
“(Monday night) a lot of the football players went down and helped out at the donation center, just unloading trucks, sorting things out, carrying water,” senior quarterback Austin Weathers said. “We've had a lot of friends lose stuff, and any way we've been able to help, we've tried our best.”
Justin Wilson, an All-State lineman for Luther last season, lost his home, just as he's trying to prepare for a college football career at Emporia State in Kansas.
His cousin, Steven Northerton is a senior starter for Luther this year, and though he sees people like Wilson fighting through the devastation with a strong will, he knows it can't be easy.
“They're holding up, and if he's being strong, we've got to be strong for him, too,” Northerton said. “All this bad stuff has happened, and the best way to get past it is to get back to normal and get through it. Focus on what's ahead.
“It's hot and it's terrible out here practicing right now, but I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. It's the best place to be in times like this.”
As for Prince, he has spent the last few days out of town with family, but should be back to practice in the next few days. Until then, the Lions have a constant reminder of what their football brother and their whole town have been through.
“Half our field is black from the fire damage, but in a way, I think it brings our kids closer,” Meek said. “That field is a reminder to keep Joey in their minds when he's not here. Nothing good will come out of this — it's a devastating occurrence. But I think it brings the kids closer together. It brings the town closer together.
“The people in this town are tough. We'll get back to normal again.”