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.
“We're seeing a change in the culture. They have an expectation that they can compete with people, and not just compete, but possibly win against them.”
Just as with the weightlifting sessions, Smith pushes his players in ways they haven't experienced before, and he's a father figure for many of them who might not have one otherwise.
“He gets along with us and can be our friend at times, and he can be our coach, getting on our tail and getting things straightened out,” Alexander said. “My sophomore year, there was a lot of fussing and people trying to fight. This year, there's none of that. We're a team, a family.”
The seniors know they'll only be around long enough to see the process begin, but they hope they're making an impact that will live beyond their high school eligibility.
“We're actually being something this year, actually doing something. Not just being the same ol' Northwest Classen. We're seeing progress,” senior Terrance Bias said. “With the young guys, we're trying to teach them right from wrong and be as brotherly as possible. We try to help them and work them hard, so they'll be ready for it when it's their turn.”
This team isn't done winning. The Knights host Class 4A Woodward (0-2) at 7 p.m. Friday in the final nondistrict game of the season, which will be a tough test. They open district play at home against Western Heights, then head to Guymon, both winnable games.
Then the schedule takes an unfriendly turn for the second half of the season, with games against El Reno, Carl Albert, McGuinness, Deer Creek and defending Class 5A champion Guthrie.
Smith's process to rebuild Northwest isn't on a two-year turnaround track. Building a winner at a place that hasn't been a winner in decades doesn't happen that quickly. But the process is gaining momentum.
“My freshman year, we didn't do anything we do now,” said Bias. “We didn't work hard. The coaches would tell you to do what you thought you could do. Not with coach Smith. We're gonna do what he thinks we can do, and it pushes you beyond your limits.
“It's a total difference, from the weight room, on the field, off the field, classroom behavior — everything is way different. It's not even the same Northwest Classen.”