If the preseason is any indication, the Blair Oaks football team could be facing a long, injury-riddled season.
On the other hand, maybe the Falcons are getting the injury bug out of the way early.
With the first week of practice behind them, the Falcons are still trying to adapt to changes in the lineup thanks to mishaps during summer camp and team camps at Sullivan and Branson.
"We have had some injuries this summer, just some crazy things," Blair Oaks head coach Brad Drehle said. "... We had eight kids we were looking at being our top guys on the offensive line, and by the time we finished down at Branson, we had one of those left."
The injuries ran the gamut.
"One had a concussion; Levi Dial, a sophomore who is physically our strongest kid in our program, tore his ACL and is done for the year; we had a freshman break his ankle, he's got pins and screws and plates in it and he's done for the year; Dalton Fifer, a returning starter, has a fractured vertebra in his back and he's out for three or four more weeks; and Collin Luebbering, who was going to be one of our starting offensive lineman, has a torn MCL and meniscus and he's out for four more," Drehle said.
But all of that pales in comparison to the story of senior Joey Bernskoetter, a key contributor on last year's team that played in the Class 2 state championship game. He contracted viral meningitis and spent four weeks at St. Louis Children's Hospital before getting things under control, but not before losing 40 pounds.
"We don't have him and probably won't have him (all season)," Drehle said. "He's wanting to get back, but from a logistics standpoint, I don't know how you can when you're a high-school kid and you lose 40 pounds."
After losing one player due to disciplinary reasons and another quitting, the roster is shrinking.
"When you look at the kids that we're plugging in to those spots, they're guys we had expected to do things for us, they're just going to have to do it faster," Drehle said. "It's not like they were strangers to us, they're just going to have to do things sooner.
"Where it may have a bigger effect on us is that JV/freshman level, because we may have to shuffle people around to make those things fit. It's a trickle-down effect."
There's not a whole lot of time for an adjustment period, as the Falcons will host a Jamboree at 6 p.m. Friday. One week later, they'll be playing for real in the season opener at Moberly.
"You start looking at it and Friday we're in a Jamboree and then after that it's a game week," Drehle said. "... We've gotten quite a bit accomplished, but we've got a lot of things we still need to accomplish."
After losing lots of key players from last year's runner-up team, there's going to be plenty of new faces in the lineup.
"With new kids you haven't had in there for two years, the problem is trying to find out what do they do well," Drehle said. "... It's what fits us and then honing those things. Sometimes it's the difference in a formation, sometimes it's the difference in backs being split or being stacked, there's so many variables that go into that and trying to figure it out is tough."
But with most of last year's injuries occurring during the season, some of the new faces got varsity time in 2012.
"Although we're going to put some kids in who may not have been the marquee players, if you look back, they made big contributions at big times in big ball games," Drehle said. "You're talking about guys stepping up and making big plays in quarterfinal games, semifinal games, state championship games. That's five extra games (in the playoffs) a lot of teams didn't get to play and along with that, that's half a season worth of practices they got that nobody else did. You'd like to believe there's a benefit to that.
"Going forward, those kids have confidence. They've seen the speed of the game. Not to belittle anybody on your schedule, but by the end of the year, when you're seeing things in the quarterfinals and semifinals, you're seeing the best of the best. If kids are able to handle themselves there, then when you get into a regular-season game, odds are they're going to be all right."
With just a half-dozen seniors on the roster, the Falcons are going to need contributions from players across a variety of classes.
"Every year, it boils down to three things," Drehle said. "... No. 1, can the next group step up and lead? No. 2, will the seniors, those leaders, will they allow the underclassmen to be successful? And No. 3, what kind of mental toughness do we have? If you can get a positive answer to all three of those questions, you have a chance to be pretty good.
"At this time last year, other people may not have realized it, but I knew we had an opportunity to be good because I saw all three of those things happening.
"Right now I'm seeing some of that happening. I don't know whether we have the horses to get it done early because we're dealing with those injuries, along with the loss of our graduated seniors, but we'll see how we do later."