In a long, narrow, poorly lit room, high school football players in matching purple T-shirts crowded around sets of weightlifting equipment, each athlete taking his turn in various lifts prior to Monday afternoon's practice.
It's no different than what happened Monday at dozens — maybe hundreds — of other schools across the state. And that, in itself, is different for the Northwest Classen Knights.
“When I was a sophomore, there wasn't anything like that going on,” said senior running back Lorenzo Alexander. “We wouldn't even be lifting that much. Things are a lot stricter and more organized.”
The Knights are 2-0 to start the season, and that's different, too.
None of the players on the team was alive the last time Northwest Classen was 2-0. That was 20 years ago, when the Knights opened with wins over Northeast and U.S. Grant before losing to Capitol Hill.
Many of the current players' parents hadn't been born yet the last time the Knights were 3-0 — the 1971 team that knocked off Classen, Capitol Hill and Southeast to open the season before finishing 5-4-1.
Everyone in that weight room on Monday afternoon knows the value of a 2-0 start in terms of other goals, like making the playoffs. Nondistrict wins don't get you to the postseason, and these players aren't pretending any different. They know they haven't accomplished anything special in the eyes of the football world.
Still, this team already has accomplished something that has happened only once at their school in the previous 40 years, and they're proud of that fact. Proud, but not satisfied.
“It means a lot, because everything we've been working on in summer and spring practices is showing,” said Alexander, who has rushed for 294 yards and three touchdowns this season. “Hopefully it keeps going like this. If we keep working hard and staying together as a team, everything will work out for itself.”
Coach Lloyd Smith is 12 games into his tenure at Northwest Classen, and the signs of the foundation he's laying are beginning to show. One more victory will match the school's winningest season since going 4-6 in 1980. A 5-5 record hasn't occurred since 1973.
“In terms of where we were last year when I got here and where we are now, I see a difference in our kids' mental toughness and their physical toughness,” said Smith, a Moore native who spent most of his coaching career in Texas. “There's a mindset change in our kids. They were consistently up here in the summer. We saw an improvement in the team's GPA.
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