The Dodge City Conquistadors football team opens its season Thursday with a game against the Independence Pirates.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. in Dodge City’s Memorial Stadium.
Last year, the Pirates beat the Conquistadors 32-28 after making a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Pirates ended up finishing first in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
Conquistador head coach Gary Thomas said he always tells his team that if a random person stumbled onto one of their games and watched them play, what would they want to have them leave the stadium and think about their team.
“Generally that answer is ‘Wow, those guys were organized,’ ‘Wow those guys play really really hard. They play together, they have a common goal and you can see it,’” Thomas said. “Regardless of the outcome, (that) is usually the impression that we want to leave on people, is that we’re learning things that other than football. We’re learning how to be team players, we’re learning how to be part of a team and understanding our role in a team and doing our job however big or small our part may be to the whole.”
Thomas said the Conqs want to be able to establish the run game. The ability to play great defense and the ability to run the football are common themes with teams that find success, at all levels of football.
“We need to be able to establish the run game early, to be find a little bit of rhythm and get the butterflies out,” Thomas said. “The adrenaline’s gonna hit hard at the beginning, and with adrenaline once you kind of balance out or once it goes away, then you hit that low.”
For the team to overcome that, they need to find a sustainable rhythm.
“Last year we came out 14-0 early in the first six minutes or something like that, and then we just hit a lull for about two and a half quarters,” Thomas said.
Going stagnant like the team did last year can’t happen, he said.
“We need to find some success early,” Thomas said. “That doesn’t always necessarily, but we need to find a little bit of a rhythm where we can change field position and give our defense a chance.”
Last year’s game has drawn a lot of attention after the fact in part because of an episode of the Netflix show “Last Chance U” in which last year’s game was included.
“I’m sure the returning guys feel like that’s a game they should have won,” Thomas said. “I think we all do.”
Still, Thomas said he tries to keep players from pursuing personal vendettas or revenge games.
“When it becomes personal, or it becomes something other than the norm, I think you start making irrational decisions,” Thomas said. “If I’m so worried about the linebacker that hit me hard two plays ago, odds are I’m gonna make a poor decision and we’re gonna do something wrong. If I’m a defensive end and the offensive tackle kicks my butt on one play and the next play that’s all I’m concentrating on, well we might have had a stunt on where you were supposed to be in another gap and you didn’t do your job.”
Something they are working on is learning to play with a clear head, Thomas said.
“We don’t wanna be robots, but we need to take some of the emotion out of it so that we’re always thinking rationally and we’re making good decisions,” Thomas said.