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Francis Howell football begins upcoming season with coach Brent Chojnacki

By: Jonathan Duncan


Francis Howell football coach Brent Chojnacki directs offensive and defensive lineman during a line drill during an Aug. 13 practice session at Francis Howell High. [Jonathan Duncan/Mid-Rivers Newsmagazine photo]

Although the fall sports season is only three days old, there is a renewed sense of excitement on the field for the Francis Howell football team.

Howell, like many Missouri teams, began fall practices this week on Monday. Aug. 12, and early looks show there is plenty of energy on the team of Vikings under second-year coach Brent Chojnacki.

“It feels good since we’ve all put in a lot of hard work in the offseason, so to get out here and be able to work on the little things for the season and with it being my senior season, I’m excited,” Gideon Niboh, Howell senior running back, said.

For Chojnacki, starting practice this week was the perfect way to see how the Vikings off-season and summer work has prepared them to evolve as he begins his second season running the program.

“We had a really fantastic summer as far as numbers-wise having guys participate and we were able to get ahead of the game installing [offense and defense] and had a lot of kids buying into the system and had very few participation issues, so right now starting the second day of practice, we’re really happy with where we are at,” Chojnacki said.

As mandated by the Missouri State High School Activities Association, teams can not have any live contact work with shoulder pads for the first five days of practice in order for players to gradually become acclimated to practicing in hot weather. Live contact work is slated to begin on Saturday, Aug. 17.

Before that, the focus for the Vikings will be on in-game fundamentals, techniques and eliminating pre-snap mistakes.

“We’ll be wearing helmets only and concentrating on the footwork and the fine details that need to take place,” Chojnacki said.

Familiarity has been the big word thrown around Howell teams this fall, and Chojnacki’s familiarity with the system has provided a smooth transition for players on and off the field this season.

“Everyone last year was brand new to everybody…learning took a little bit longer last year, [but] this year everybody knows a little bit [more], so we’ve been able to move a lot faster than we were last year,” Niboh said.

Senior offensive tackle Drake Heismeyer agreed.

“This second year just feels a lot better [with] knowing all the plays, and you just feel a lot more comfortable,” Heismeyer said.

The Vikings have been competitive, but have not reached the elite status of other area teams after going 7-4 last season and 6-3 in 2017.

While previous seasons’ teams fell short of expectations, the 2019 team is comprised of notably talented players. For example, Niboh has received scholarship offers from Butler, Valparaiso, and Dayton University. Heismeyer, the Vikings’ top lineman, is headed to the University of Missouri next fall. With the addition of notable senior inside linebacker Charlton Watson Jr., the trio is expected to be a major key to the team’s success this fall.

“Experience is something we have coming back, “Chojnacki said. “We put an emphasis on the weight room and guys like Drake and Gideon, those guys are [now] conditioned to go both ways full-speed.”

Heismeyer is excited about the potential of the Vikings on the gridiron and believes they are ready to take the next step in being successful in the playoffs.

“It feels really good being back out here,” Heismeyer said. “I’m really excited and I think we can go far this year. Last year, we kind of had a lot of young guys, [but] now we have a lot of guys coming back with a lot more experience. We should be running pretty hot.”

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