By Joel Muhs
One year, three months, and 19 days. That is how long it had been since the Hutchinson Community College football team had last taken the field before its 33-10 victory over Coffeyville on Friday at Gowans Stadium.
Previous to Friday’s game against Coffeyville, HutchCC’s last game was had been a 45-23 victory over Monroe College in the Salt City Bowl to end the 2019 season, but little did anyone know of the looming COVID-19 pandemic that would halt the football program for a nearly two years.
“It feels great, you know. It’s been almost two years since we’ve played a football game, so it feels great,” sophomore wide receiver Cam Henderson said after being asked how it felt to be back playing football.
The Blue Dragons kicked off their season with a bang, as they took their game-opening drive for a touchdown, which ended with a 30-yard touchdown run by sophomore quarterback CJ Ogbonna, who was also excited to get back onto the field.
“It feels great, because the last time I played a game was in 2018 during my senior year (of high school),” Ogbonna said. “So it feels good just to be back out here playing with my team.”
Although the entire team went through the COVID pause, there was one person, in particular, that was itching to roam the sidelines, and that’s first-year coach Drew Dallas.
“That was fun. Playing football again was just a lot of fun,” Dallas said. “Our guys enjoyed it and the energy was great, especially at the beginning of the game.”
However, the sizzling start to the Blue Dragons’ season nearly came to a screeching halt during halftime, as an hour-long weather delay dampened a 19-3 Blue Dragon halftime lead and the moods of the 1,500 fans in attendance at Gowans.
“We dealt with the adversity at halftime with the rain delay, and they’ve been dealing with adversity for a long time, so that was par for the course,” Dallas said.
Aside from the unusually long layoff, there were two other milestones reached on Friday night. For the first time ever, HutchCC played its first regulation spring game, while entering the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, but Ogbonna and Henderson noted that the No. 1 ranking isn’t their focus.
“It’s a good feeling right now, but the main goal is to go 1-0 every week. It still feels crazy that we’re playing in the spring, because there’s another season coming in the fall,” Ogbonna said.
“It means a lot, but hey, we’re not going to let it go to our heads and we’re going to stay humble,” Henderson said.
It has been a long year and a half, but Friday night showed an abundance of hope through the dark curtain of COVID-19. There were fans in the stands and a HutchCC football game was played at Gowans, which signified the ultimate return of Blue Dragon football.
“We got the first one off the chest as a team, and I’m just excited for my players – they’re 1-0,” Dallas said. “They’ve put the work in. There was so much adversity getting to tonight and the things they’ve fought through and for them to go out and play football again and come out on top was exciting.”