NORTH CANTON Get rid of the question mark.
As the Hoover Vikings' football team begins its summer conditioning work, senior receiver Brady Nist and his teammates have the elimination of a specific punctuation mark as their primary goal. On the wall of the team’s weight room, located adjacent to the field at Memorial Stadium, hangs a small banner that read, “Federal League Champs?” The question mark in place of a specific year is to remind players that the team’s next league title is up for determination based on their effort and performance.
On the field, coaches remind players that it’s been nearly a decade since orange and black were the league’s dominant colors on the gridiron and the subject is one that comes up often when motivation is needed.
“Sometimes, if a coach thinks we’re slacking in the weight room, he’ll kill the music, get everyone’s attention and point to that banner,” Nist said.
Staying focused is a big deal because the Vikings know that the other teams on their schedule for this fall are also going about their summer work and each of them is trying to outwork, out hustle and outlift their rivals.
Sometimes, games are won largely on the basis of talent, but in contests where two schools are evenly matched, the work put in during the offseason tilts the scales slightly in one direction.
“We always tell each other that Jackson is doing the same thing as us right now, so we have to do it harder and better,” Nist said.
Being a senior adds another layer of motivation for Nist and his fellow Class of 2018 members. He admits that in previous seasons, he often looked forward to getting through practice so he could get out of the heat, go home and relax.
Now, he realizes that there won’t be a next year for him when it comes to high school football and although some members of the team will go on to play at the college level, most know this fall will be their last chance to play competitive, organized football.
Still, the focus isn’t solely on getting better individually and making sure that each senior shines on their own. Nist recalled coming in as a freshman three years ago and having then-senior Ben Keisling welcome him to the team.
“Ben Quisling made me - all of us freshmen really - feel welcome and he let you know what you needed to do or what you were doing wrong without yelling at you,” Nist said.
His mission now is to take the same approach with the team’s incoming freshmen, knowing that the program’s long-term success depends on passing down what he’s learned. It’s part of the team-building process that takes place during the offseason and as Nist noted, it’s nice to be able to carry it out without the physicality that ensues once organized practices and games begin.
For now, there are no pads, helmets or collisions - unless you count weights colliding with the rubber floor in the weight room and drops of sweat hitting the ground on sweltering summer days. Hydration is another common topic, with coaches reminding players to drink water during practices and plenty more once they end.
“It was different back when my dad played and they thought not getting water made you tough,” Nist said. “But our coaches know water is important and they do a good job of making sure everyone is getting their gallon of water after practice.”
Hydrating now is important and as they work out and drink their water, Nist and his teammates would like nothing more than to see their efforts pay off with a possible Week 10 Gatorade shower for head coach Brian Baum should they make good on their goal of putting a 2017 in place of that question mark on the banner hanging in their weight room.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB