The Ryan football team gathered around coach Dave Henigan on the practice field Monday morning before the day got hotter and the task got longer.
The team kneeled around the first-year Ryan head coach before the players left to lift weights, looking at a man leading his first team practice.
“Man it’s good to be back out here,” Henigan said to his team with a big grin.
It’s uncertain whether Henigan was referring to his return to Ryan or the return of the football season, but the statement is applicable in both instances.
Ryan joined many other teams around the state and started the season with the fall’s initial practice. Teams that did not participate in spring football training were allowed to have their first practice Monday.
Teams like Guyer, Lake Dallas and Denton that held spring ball will be able to practice next week.
Henigan said he went to bed at about 11 p.m. Sunday, tossed and turned for much of the night and arrived at the Ryan fieldhouse at 5:15 a.m., about 90 minutes before Ryan’s first practice.
Henigan took over for Joey Florence in the spring. Florence led the Raiders to the playoffs in all 14 seasons as head coach before he replaced Ken Purcell as the Denton school district’s athletic director.
Henigan was at Ryan as offensive coordinator when it won the Class 4A Division II state title in 2002 and lost the 4A Division II title game in 2003. He left Ryan to become the head coach at Corsicana and then Grapevine before returning to the school off East McKinney Street.
Henigan was full of energy Monday morning. The former University of the Pacific quarterback mimicked routes to wide receivers learning a new scheme.
Henigan said he was pleased with the retention of some of the game plan’s new wrinkles in the first practice, especially with new terminology.
“Over the course of the summer, you can lose some of that,” Henigan said. “I was pleased with how quickly kids picked stuff back up, and I thought our tempo of practice was good on both sides of the ball. Kids were flying around.”
Senior running back Maurice Gordon is one of the few returning key players from last year’s team that reached the Class 5A Division II quarterfinals. Gordon said he sensed something different on a field that had many new players and new coaches working together during practice.
“It felt like a completely different atmosphere,” Gordon said. “It’s almost like we have a completely different team, but we can take it as a positive because we can build on something new.”
The pace of the practice was quick, something Henigan said will be a staple of the days leading up to Ryan’s first scrimmage against North Crowley on Aug. 15.
“Everybody came ready to play,” senior defensive back Elijah Allen said. “Everybody is ready to get into the fall. It’s a little bit different here and there, but they still keep it familiar to where everybody can still go with the flow.”
When Henigan was an assistant at Highland Park, he picked the brain of head coach Randy Allen and wondered what to do when one inherits a tradition-rich program.
Henigan said that while things don’t need to be reinvented at a place like Ryan, his staff and players will try to tweak things and put their stamp on a program entering a unique situation.
“This year, replacing a lot of starters, it’s a different team,” Henigan said. “You have to establish your own identity.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.