Connor Develice had not been a varsity-level football player before last year, when the then-junior took over as the starting quarterback for Andover.
Success followed quickly. He passed for more than 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns, leading the Huskies to an undefeated season, capped by a 27-17 victory over rival Rogers on a frigid mid-November night.
But it just didn't feel like he expected it would. Andover played only six games in a season that began more than a month late after the MSHSL initially decided to postpone football and volleyball, only to reverse course in September.
A spike in the reported cases of COVID-19 then forced the league to cut the resumed season short, with some teams playing as few as four games — none more than seven — and no culminating events held.
"I didn't feel like I really got the true experience, with the expectation of Friday night lights and playing in front of a packed house," Develice recalled.
This year, however, Develice is looking forward to the full enchilada. While COVID still looms over the high school sports world, a year of of experience has the MSHSL convinced it can move ahead with a typical athletics year with diligent oversight.
The 2021-22 fall season begins Monday, with the first day of official practices in cross-country, football, boys' and girls' soccer, girls' swimming and volleyball.
According to MSHSL rules, teams must hold at least two weeks of practices before competition. The exception is tennis, which allows for one week of practice owing the dependency on suitable weather for competition.
"I'm really looking forward to the true experience of high school football," said Develice, who played much of last season while dealing with a high ankle sprain, which he reinjured in the season finale. "It's kind of like a do-over. And our class is very close. This is our time. We can't wait to get out there and prove it."
Develice's father, Tom, is the Andover head coach. While his players are hoping to expand on last year's successes, he has taken pains to make sure they're aware that this is a new season. While 2020 may have been a confidence builder, it's no guarantee of success.
"I don't want to destroy their excitement and enthusiasm, but I want to make sure they understand that this team is different," coach Develice said. "I know what we've lost in seniors. Four kids alone who are all at [Wis.-]River Falls now and they're all playing."
But he admits that he, too, is excited for a return to normalcy.
"I know myself, I missed the whole Friday night atmosphere," he said. "And I think it took until November for my toes to thaw out."