The midnight celebration of a new high school football season known as Midnight Madness is nothing groundbreaking in Texas.
After all, as romanticized in literature, film and television, high school football is serious business in the Lone Star State and coaches are always looking for an edge.
At 12:01 a.m. Monday morning, Saginaw Boswell opened its season by partaking in Midnight Madness practice for the first time in coach John Abendschan’s eight years at the school.
“This is a great group and the UIL tells us we can start at 12:01 a.m. on Monday the 12th, well, we’re not going to waste a minute,” Abendschan said.
An hour before practice, the lights at Pioneer Stadium lit up the field, music blared from the loudspeakers, a countdown ticked off the minutes remaining to the start of the season and a highlight film from last year’s 8-3 playoff squad was shown on the jumbotron.
But a small, lingering lightning storm threatened to derail the celebration before it began when players were ushered back to the locker room around 11:40 p.m.
Abendschan mentioned the possibility of scrapping the late-night practice and starting the season at 6 a.m.
Then, as if by divine intervention, the storm moved on, a cool breeze moved in and the Pioneers took the field at exactly 12:01 a.m. with about the best August football weather one could hope for in Texas.
Boswell began the season as it does every year, with a series of dreaded “agility drills,” known as the County Fair.
“County Fair is crazy conditioning; I don’t think anybody looks forward to it, but you just get through it and it makes us better in the end,” 6-foot, 280-pound defensive tackle Dominic Hill said.
When asked if it were possible to show up and persevere through County Fair without preparing throughout the summer, senior running back Antoine Stevenson replied, “No, you would die.”
As the players zipped from station to station, several parents looked on from the stands. Most of the upperclassmen drove themselves or hitched a ride from a friend to practice, but the younger guys needed a ride from their folks.
The parents’ enthusiasm varied, but all seemed on board with the unusual start time.
John Reeves, who was a running back at Palestine before graduating in 2001 and becoming a NAIA All-American at Baker University in Kansas, is no stranger to midnight practices. He was on hand to watch his son, Trayvon, a sophomore defensive back.
“My son came and told me they were going to open practice at midnight and I was like, ‘OK, that’s cool,’” Reeves said. “We did Midnight Madness in high school. You kind of get the morale of the team up at the start of a new season and bring it in just right.”
Monica Garcia wasn’t quite as gung-ho about practicing in the middle of the night as she had to be at work at 8 a.m. Monday, but said she supports her son, Gabriel, and the team.
“I think it’s a little crazy. We’re from Southern California, and I know high school football is really big here in Texas,” Garcia said. “The weather is cooler right now for them but some parents are going to have to get up and go to work. I have three sons, they all play football and I’m at practice whenever I can. It’s just part of being a football mom.”
The Pioneers concluded practice with wind sprints at around 2:30 a.m.
Abendschan said he made it home around 4 a.m. and was happy to find some leftover Mellow Mushroom pizza in the fridge, which he scarfed while watching SportsCenter before finally getting to sleep at 4:45 a.m.
He was back up at in a couple hours. Football season has begun. There’s work to do.
“I’m more excited about the late practice now than I was before we did it,” Abendschan said. “The clouds parted, we were able to practice.
“The kids had great energy, the coaches were awesome and I just think it’s a great way to go. For however a little bit of tired I am, the excitement of it is still great and we’re just going to build off of it.”