The Hannibal football team hopes to give a proper sendoff to longtime coach Mark St. Clair, who intends to make his 22nd season his last at the helm.
Mark St. Clair is experiencing lots of lasts on the sidelines.
The longtime Hannibal football coach finished his final preseason, and Friday night's game at Porter Stadium against Helias will be his last season opener.
St. Clair announced earlier this year he intends for this to be his final fall leading the program.
“Every time I do something, it's the last time,” said St. Clair, the winningest football coach in school history. “I've been coaching 32 years and 22 as the head football coach here. If you count up all my years as a head coach in one sport or another, I've had 64 seasons.
“But I don't really approach this one any different.”
His players don't feel quite the same.
The Pirates want to give a fitting sendoff to St. Clair, whose illustrious career was recognized in December with induction to the Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“We are shooting to win a state championship,” said Pirates senior Jordan Schafer. “Nothing less. We're going for it all, especially since it's St. Clair's last year. We're going all out for him. We're thinking about that during practice, in the weight room — it's on our minds all the time.”
The players' commitment to this upcoming season was evident over the summer, when the team averaged nearly 60 participants on a daily basis for voluntary workouts.
Hannibal hopes the offseason effort turns into results more favorable than last year's 6-5 record.
The matchup against rival Helias is the first chance for the Pirates to gauge their progress. Hannibal beat the Crusaders 41-28 last year with an inspired fourth-quarter comeback.
“I can't imagine there being a better opener in the state than Hannibal-Helias,” St. Clair said of Friday's 7 p.m. kickoff. “It's a great way to open the season with two teams going at it who know each other well.”
The opener will give the Pirates an indicator of what weaknesses need to be addressed going forward.
“We've had this circled for a while,” Schafer said. “We're really looking forward to this game because it will lay out the season for us and show us what we need to do.”
Chase Kirby, the youngest of three boys in his family, follows in the footsteps of his siblings who played for St. Clair.
Kirby is now a starting lineman and expected to be a leader on both sides of the ball. He considers the longtime coach a part of his own family.
“Coach St. Clair is like a dad,” Kirby said. “I would do anything for him, and he would do anything for any of us too.”
St. Clair often describes how the continual focus of his team needs to be on the process of preparation, letting the wins and losses take of themselves.
He is meticulous about wanting the “little things” done right.
“He tells you what you need to know when you need to know,” Kirby said, starting to chuckle. “And if you do something wrong, he'll make sure you do it right.”
The discipline learned through the rigors of training and pressure-packed moments on Friday nights morph into life lessons for the thousands St. Clair has coached.
“He's just a great teacher,” Schafer said. “With him, it's not only how to be a great football player, it's how to be a good man. He's been a father figure to all of us.
“He's always helped us with any aspect on the field or off and pushed us.”
Now the Pirates look to carry their leader out in style.