Paul Limongi couldn’t remember how many days it had been. More than 400, even 500, since the Omaha Burke football team had put on pads and knocked helmets with another team in town.
“A year and a half off,” he said.
On Thursday morning, the wait was over. Burke was on its own turf, in warm temps, in drills against defending Class A champ Omaha Westside. Water bottles littered the sidelines and parents sat in the bleachers. Coaches barked orders, and so did a few players. Limongi even had to calm down one of his linemen. Just an ordinary day at practice.
It’s an opportunity Limongi and Burke didn’t get in 2020, when Omaha Public Schools decided to postpone fall sports amid the COVID pandemic. The district considered a plan to play spring football, but the idea was shelved as many players supported simply turning the page to 2021.
So early June was Burke’s first chance to get going again, as part of the Locker Room camp.
“When we were warming up, they looked nervous like never before,” Limongi said. “Usually we’re more excited and amped, but we had a lot of guys who, this was their first varsity action. We played some freshmen today — our center’s a freshman — but our first play, we had a great hit by (linebacker) Nick Garnett, that got things going.”
Said Burke linebacker Devon Jackson: “No words can describe how that felt, getting back out here and playing the sport I love.”
Jackson, a four-star recruit in the 2022 class, said it was “hard to watch” any high school games last season while OPS schools were sidelined.
“Especially knowing the team we had,” Jackson said. “I still think we could have potentially won state.”
Limongi agrees. He believes the 2020 team may have shaped up as Burke’s best since he arrived as coach — better even than the 2018 Class A champions. Once OPS made its decision on fall extracurricular activities, several players transferred. Quarterback Caden Becker, a Wyoming commit, went to Skutt. Tight end Brayden Loftin went to Council Bluffs Lewis Central.
The Burke program closed the book on what it lost, Limongi said, on the first day of winter workouts for the 2021 season.
“Jan. 4,” Limongi said. “We weren’t going to let it get us two years in a row. Let’s move on, let’s get better. Let’s play this year for the outgoing seniors. It happened, and it’s gone.”
In the Locker Room event, Limongi wanted Burke to face the best possible teams right away. Westside and Creighton Prep were on the menu.
“We wanted to see where we were at, gauge ourselves and get better right away,” Limongi said.
At least on Thursday, Limongi said Burke held up pretty well against a Westside team that has some of the best young talent in the Metro. Bulldog quarterback Cooper Katskee is a transfer from the Denver area. Also a pitcher, he’d been working with the football team for less than a week.
“It’s just exciting to see how we’ll build,” Limongi said.