The Patrick Henry Patriots took the 12-mile ride across Minneapolis to open their football season at Roosevelt on Sept. 2. Henry was arriving with a 17-game losing streak.
"The last game we had won was against BC [Brooklyn Center] on October 11, 2019,'' lineman Tysean Hughes said. "And it was the craziest weather. A snowstorm in early October, with thunder.''
This is the last season for Hughes, and running back Newmann Thomas, and two more handfuls of seniors who had withstood the losing and were ready for a change.
"The team signed on and we started a lifting program on the Monday after our last game in 2021,'' coach Mark Heiser said. "We had two young assistants, Jordan Dornbush and Tyler Phillips, who took charge of that program.''
Hughes nodded and said: "They were there for us five days a week in the summer. We also had 7-on-7 summer football at much higher intensity than in the past.''
Thus, the Henry athletes were confident this season would be different, but it was going to take awhile to be sure.
"On our first offensive play at Roosevelt, I drove into my block and was going for a pancake as I went to the ground,'' said Hughes, a right tackle. "I heard some cheers. I said, 'What happened?' and one of our guys said, 'Newmann … he's gone.'
"And then I saw him, heading for the end zone, and I started running and screaming and thinking, 'This year IS going to be different.' "
Thomas' first touch of the season was a 72-yard touchdown. Final: Henry 54, Roosevelt 0.
Things are not always smooth in the city, of course. Football players and the rest of the athletes … often there will be complications far beyond that day's competition.
As the Patriots were getting ready to play Brooklyn Center in their home opener, something appeared on social media suggesting the possibility of gang activity.
The administration postponed the game from a Friday night and it was rescheduled for Sept. 13, a Tuesday. Henry outscored Brooklyn Center 35-28.
"And then we had a game three nights later against Edison, and those guys are always tough," Hughes said. "That was a battle.''
Final: Henry 17, Edison 14.
Then came Columbia Heights last Friday. Spencer Alvarez, 6 feet 7, lineman or tight end, take your pick, was gone to the Gophers — along with a bunch of other seniors who had left Heights in rebuilding mode.
Final: Henry 32, Columbia Heights 14.
Four-and-zero for the Patriots, and with a serious challenge this Friday vs. St. Paul Harding/Humboldt (also 4-0) for Humboldt's homecoming.
"We're two teams in sort of the same position — underdogs, determined, and off to good starts,'' Heiser said.
The head coach was sitting at a small table in Patrick Henry's school office, along with the outgoing Hughes and the quiet Thomas.
Hughes pointed to several reasons for the September turnaround, and then nodded to his left and said: "Plus, we have Newmann.''
Hughes is called "Kool-Aid,'' a nickname given him a few years ago by a coach because Tysean was dedicated to wearing red, head to toe.
And Thomas' nickname? "Doesn't have one,'' Hughes said. "He's just Newmann, with an extra 'n'.''
Thomas smiled. He's 5-8 and weighs 160 pounds. He learned to play football at North Commons, the city's most vibrant youth program that does much to feed North High's Class 2A powerhouse.
"I know almost all those guys at North,'' Thomas said. "I got a few calls when we were losing, saying, 'You should be over here,' but I've been with these teammates since I was a freshman.' "
What was your size as a freshman? "Five-foot-6, 140 pounds,'' he said.
Heiser, smiling: "Not 140.'' Hughes, shaking his head: "No way, 140.''
The trio agreed on 135, but even then Thomas showed the ability to make tacklers miss.
"I didn't really watch much football — wasn't a fan,'' Thomas said. "But my dad said, 'Get off the couch and go sign up at North Commons.' And that's what I did.''
Hughes and Thomas are both strong students. Hughes was voted as the student body president — only juniors and seniors are eligible — for the 2021-22 school year and will be running again when the election is held later in the fall.
"The big thing was to support and push for the name change,'' Hughes said. "Now that's going to happen, and the students should maintain a voice in the change.''
Patrick Henry, known for "Give me liberty or give me death,'' was also a slave owner. It was announced in late August that there will be a name change, which figures to make this the last group of athletes to graduate as "Patriots.''
Hughes said: "The traditions here won't die with the name change. The championships won in the past, what we're trying to get done in football this season, will still be part of this high school.
"For me, this is a revenge tour. Two seasons of going through that handshake line, having the players from other team say, 'Good game, hang in there' … I got so sick of that.
"This fall, I wanted us to be the ones saying that. So far, we have been.''