PENDLETON — When Travis McGee stepped back onto the field for his first practice of his last year as a Pendleton Buckaroo, he was hit with a bittersweet feeling.
"It's weird — it almost feels like a different experience because it's my senior year," he said after practice, watching on as his teammates prepared to hit the locker room. "It doesn't feel new, but it feels exciting. It's great, really."
That excitement McGee felt was a sentiment likely shared with high school athletes all across the state — Monday marked the first official day of the football, volleyball, cross-country, and soccer seasons for all OSAA teams.
The Bucks could be seen on the practice field running drills in the 90-degree heat for the first time this season on Monday afternoon, although it wasn't the first time they started preparing for the fall slate.
"We spent four days in conditioning camp last week," head coach Erik Davis said, "so we knew where everyone was athletically. We knew were everyone stood."
The Bucks are coming off of a nearly-spotless season where they went 6-0 to win the league, but incurred a 51-30 loss to Thurston in the 5A semifinals. It would be their second of just two losses that season.
"We have a lot of guys who have to step up," said Walker Camp, a senior. "We just gotta win the league. That'll take a lot. We have to be stealing mental reps, show up on time to practice, and work hard every day."
Pendleton also graduated 17 players off last year's roster, leaving some big roles to fill this time around.
"We have a lot of younger guys who don't have varsity experience," Davis said. "The true test comes Wednesday."
Wednesday will be the first time the team gears up in pads and helmets as the competition for positions begins.
"We'll get to see who's willing to stick their noses out there and be physical," Davis said. "We've been seeing some good competition so far. Nothing's given. Everything's gotta be earned."
Monday afternoon consisted of basic offensive and defensive drills for the Bucks.
"We continued to install offensively, and defensively, we got into blitz packages," Davis said.
It set the foundation for where Davis wants to see his team go for the rest of the season.
"There's a reason I surround myself with a tremendous staff," he said. "You have to come in with a plan, otherwise, those two hours are a waste of time. We feel that you have to be very organized."
Pendleton's season kicks off on Friday, Sept. 6 with a road game at La Grande. With the first game of the season just a couple of weeks away, it's only a matter of time before they face what Davis expects will be one of their biggest challenges on the schedule.
"They're going to be a tremendous football team," he said of the Tigers. "They have a senior class they've been waiting for. We have to be tough right out of the chute. We'll get ready for them, and they'll be ready for us."
As Pendleton's first practice wound to a close, coach Davis left his team with some parting words that set a precedent for everyone in the huddle — both the lower and upperclassmen.
"We have to build from the foundation up, and that takes character," Davis announced. "I look around and I see a lot of character kids here."