Missouri Western football’s first practice of the season on Monday signifies that summer is almost over, and it is nearly time to begin the Griffons 50th anniversary.

Cheers and hollers filled the air at Spratt Memorial Stadium when the players took to the field. The majority of the talking came from the defensive players, something that third-year coach Matt Williamson wasn’t too surprised by.

“They all start that. They do that the first practice,” Williamson said. “After about the third practice, it slows down a little bit. It’s good. We’re a huge team, but it’s funny because a couple of those guys are the best of friends, and they just kind of bark back and forth between each other.”

Williamson is glad to see this attitude out of his players and believes they are bonding.

“Some places where you don’t have chemistry and a good group of kids, that will destruct a team a little bit,” Williamson said. “Right now, we just have a bunch of fun with it.”

With an 11-9 overall record as the Griffons head coach, a 7-5 record last season and a postseason win in the Agent Barry Live United Bowl, Williamson looks to build off that success to celebrate the 50th season. It was the Griffons’ first winning record since going 6-5 in 2015.

As for an early look at the offense, senior Wyatt Steigerwald took a majority of the first-team reps along with returning junior running back Shamar Griffith. Griffith ran the ball 103 times for 665 yards and four touchdowns. Steigerwald completed 15-29 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns and no picks in his limited time last season.

Griffith feels ready to start the new season after the success he and the Griffons found in 2018.

“I feel like since it’s the first camp of the 2019 season, I think we have high energy,” Griffith said. “Everybody’s excited about the season. It’s the 50th anniversary, and I think that’s just adding fuel to the fire.”

Not returning at running back is James Bailey Jr., who is no longer on the team. Bailey Jr. ran the ball 131 times for 706 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“He just decided he didn’t want to play football anymore, so he hung it up,” Williamson said. “I just don’t really know what happened.”

Williamson saw many positive things to build on in his squad’s first day back on the gridiron.

“We had a really good practice. We had a lot of guys show out,” Williamson. “You could just tell the differences as we continued growing as a program, just the recognition, the way we do things and just how productive we are during practice.”

With the defense setting the tone early with smack talk, junior defensive linemen Tyler Baska remains more reserved but likes what he hears, especially when it comes to pumping up his younger teammates.

“Well, I don’t know if each of us come out a little chirpier than usual,” Baska said. “We definitely have a select few on our team that like to talk more than others. There’s nothing wrong with that. They like to get the rest of the defense hyped, especially before a team period. As for the new guys, they’re just getting accustomed to college football as opposed to high school football.

The No. 7 coaches poll ranked Griffons open up their 50th season on Thursday, Sept. 5, at Spratt Memorial Stadium against the No. 2 Northwest Missouri State Bearcats.

Derek Zimmerman-Guyer can be reached at derek.zguyer@newspressnow.com.