When the workout begins, the timer projected on a screen in the back of the Leavenworth High School weight room counts down from 60 seconds.
A bell sounds at the end of the timer, signifying the end of rest and the beginning of a new set.
It’s methodical, but the scene is chaotic.
As the new set begins, several players lift bars over their heads while others jump through a set of boxes in the middle of the room. The intensity is palpable, and the improvements the Pioneers football team seek are real.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last year and it’s exciting,” senior wide receiver Isaiah Ross said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that came out, a lot of guys that have come into the team and we’re just grinding right now.”
As of last week, head football coach Mark Littrell and new Leavenworth strength coach Sean Sachen have been leading the Pioneers through summer workouts in preparation for the upcoming season.
But, if you ask Littrell, there’s nothing upcoming about it.
“I like our attitude,” he said. “I like their demeanor and I like their work ethic. It’s been two days, it’s a new time period right now — the new season basically started June 2. Everybody’s excited and I anticipate they will keep that demeanor, that work ethic and attitude all year long.”
The Pioneers are coming off a 3-7 season that included three losses by 10 points or less and a 36-14 season-ending loss to Shawnee Mission East High School.
Littrell said the team has reason to believe the woes are nearing an end.
This season will be the first that Littrell will have spent the entire year with the team after getting hired before last season, and he said the team is starting to understand his philosophies and goals.
“It was a transition period for them last year with me,” Littrell said. “They’ve really bought in and I’ve been really happy with them.”
Senior lineman Sean Young, who was second on the team in total tackles with 59 last season, said the squad has responded well to the summer program, adding that some younger players are starting to turn a few heads.
“Everybody’s coming in and working harder than last year,” Young said. “A couple sophomores — they’re in the weight room getting bigger and out on the field hustling and playing hard like we are.”
Sporting a schedule that includes an Oct. 30 matchup against nearby Lansing High School for the first-time ever, Littrell said the team will be looking to its seniors to lead this offseason.
By the time the Pioneers’ season-opener against Great Bend High School at home rolls around, he said the team will have a clear view of team leaders on and off the field.
“All of our senior class have all stepped up and taken a good leadership role,” Littrell said. “Their work ethic has gotten better. I’ve just been really impressed how those seniors have stepped up and taken charge of the program.”
Until the season-opener, Ross said the team is solely focused on getting stronger in the weight room and faster on the field during the summer to hopefully translate to success come fall.
Littrell said the team will be conducting workouts through Aug. 18, when padded practices begin.